In a fantasy version of Meiji-era Japan, the country is in a constant state of change and chaos with the coming of the Black Ships and the opening of Japan to the rest of the world. It was a time when anything could happen, and probably did.
On the southern island of Kyushu, two children who can turn into birds live with their adopted human parents. An evil feudal overlord kidnaps Azuki for the valuable white and orange feathers she sheds when she is a Toki-bird. Her courageous father dies trying to prevent her capture. With the help of the local birds and animals, her mother sets her free, but is also killed by the overlord’s men. With her parents dead at the evil overlord’s hands, a heartbroken Azuki flees. It’s all her fault! It’s her ridiculous ability to turn into a Toki-bird that caused everything horrible to happen! She destroyed her human family. Maybe she’ll do better as a bird. She’ll join her Toki-kin and give up being human at all. That will make things better. Won’t it?
Shota, her brother, can turn into a sparrow, but nobody’s interested in his plain brown feathers. The best he can do is follow his mother’s directions and rouse his own bird-kin to help his sister fly free. But his mother is hurt! She is dying, and Shota can’t think about anything else. But before she dies, their mother tells him all is not lost at home or in the human world for either of her children. She will do whatever she can to help them, living or dead, and she makes of Shota a final request. Shota speeds after Azuki to tell her that they will lose their human inheritance and won’t be able to live in human society at all, ever, unless they return in time to claim it, and return they must, honoring their mother’s wishes. Shota plans to bring Azuki home whether she likes it or not. She is his sister! They must stay together! There must be a way for them to embrace their heritage, all of it — didn’t their mother tell him so?
In her desperate search for her Toki-kin, Azuki visits egrets who send her off to the major Toki nesting grounds on Sado-ga-shima, far from their Kyushu home. On the way to a place she doesn’t know, unsure of her welcome, and with no clear directions other than “north and east”, Azuki weathers storms, encounters a fierce mountain ogre, and befriends a dragon who also has a secret. Will she ever reach her goal? What will she find when she gets there?
Shota, smaller and slower, doggedly follows the directions from the egrets. In a dream, his late father comes to give him help in his quest to track his sister and bring her home. Shota thinks he knows where Azuki is going, but it’s far from a sure thing. She could join other Toki, she could make a wrong turn, she could give up the idea and do something else! Can he find her? Will he reach her in time? Even if he does, can they possibly get back before the deadline? He is helped on the way by sailors, finding in himself a love of the sea, makes a friend of a war-horse, earns some gold, and just maybe discovers a way to get them back in time to claim their human heritage, so they can live as themselves, even if that isn’t like anybody else.
You can purchase the book online from Smashwords and/or Amazon at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/448938.
eBook formatting and cover design by Shelley Glasow at goodlifeguide.com
“Delaney Wears Braces” is a story to help children understand that individuals with disabilities have more in common with all children than differences. Children without disabilities will see how a young girl with cerebral palsy is able to enjoy the things that all little girls enjoy: princesses, fairies, bike riding and playing with friends. Children with disabilities will see how they are not limited in their ability to enjoy being kids. It is a story of diversity and inclusion.
Lynn C. Smitherman, MD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Wayne State University
Director, Pediatric Residency Program
Children’s Hospital of Michigan
“Delany Wears Braces” is an awesome true life story about celebrating our uniqueness. In my field of work I see children with all sorts of abilities. This story is a fun and loving way to show other children (and adults) that children in braces are just like you and me.
Christina Paniccia , PT, DPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Pediatric Supervisor – Neighborhood Club
Grosse Pointe, Michigan
As parents of a son who has worn braces since he was 18 months old, this book is perfect! Ben’s braces have enabled him to grow stronger and participate in all kinds of activities…just like any other child. If this book helps one child or adult to better understand what braces can do for a child, then it is truly a success!
Nancy and Dan VanLoon
Delaney’s acceptance of her braces should be an inspiration to all children, and adults, that are in a position where they have to wear braces. She shows us that a child can look beyond her braces and live joyfully as any other kid.
Eric Rzeppa, CPO
Pros Tech, Inc.
“Delaney Wears Braces” is a wonderfully written book by Jean Kraemer. It demonstrates with simplicity and honesty how a child with a physical challenge can do many of the same things that other children do. The colorful photographs beautifully illustrate the enjoyment Delaney experiences while engaged in her daily activities. It’s a personal and touching story and one that I would have loved in my “classroom library” as so many of my students struggled with being “different”. The book validates children with challenges that they are not alone and it teaches others a greater tolerance and empathy towards children who are different from them.
Nancy M. Kevelin, MA
Retired Special Education Teacher
This is a wonderful story. I loved the live pictures. I loved how the author normalized the braces and made it such a small part of who Delaney is. I was crying as the author shared all the things Delaney loves to do—just like her friends who don’t wear braces. As a shoe-lover myself and as a doctor who has to negotiate brace wear with the teens I treat, I loved the sparkly shoes page! I’m grateful she made me part of this journey! This book will help lots of kids.
Susan Youngs, MD
Director, Oakwood Center for Exceptional Families
Smiles erupt reading Delaney Wears Braces. It answers questions and celebrates differences by doing something ALL kids love: telling the truth!
Grace Serra Boldman
Mom of two special children, including one with special needs
You can purchase the book online from Smashwords and/or Amazon at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/448897.
eBook formatting and cover design by Shelley Glasow at goodlife guide.com
This book can be seen as an educational aide, in order to study the phenomenon of fascism. It includes an analysis of what social and psychological factors form the traits of an authoritarian individual. People raised in the patriarchal system, so typical of modern society, develop authoritarian personalities which are susceptable to fascist ideologies and organizations. These powerful anti-democratic forces threaten all of us, and bear the need for closer examination. Probing the thinking and culture of fascism, this book peels away the layers, and makes the connections between the various influences that shape the self-negating development of fascist thinking. Exposed is a world of fear, hatred, prejudice, the need to identify with an external power, and the inevitable blaming of scapegoats for any personal or collective short comings. Is it time for the tyranny of the patriarchy to end? The inherent imbalance and inequalities within patriarchal systems have led to the development of over aggressive heirarchical societies bent on the domination and control of the resources and people of the world. This book includes historical analyses of the development of the various forms of fascism, highlighting the inter-connections between the personal and collective growth of authoritarianism. On occasion, it includes the personal opinion of the author, who also explores the possibility of living in a world without fascism.
You can purchase the book online from Smashwords and/or Amazon at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/449580.
eBook formatting and cover design by Shelley Glasow at goodlifeguide.com
By T.A. Sorensen
Diagnosis: Alzheimer’s disease. Now what?
Each and every day millions of individuals are facing this exact situation and have no idea what to do. Their easiest course of action is to scour the Internet in search of information, when all they really want is to hear from someone who’s actually been through it. I understand – I’ve been there. Despite my best efforts to deal with everything I made plenty of mistakes, the largest of which, was feeling sorry for myself. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; it wasn’t about me. I decided to approach the situation from a very different perspective, and because of that newfound positivity, I was better equipped to handle everything.
Join me while I walk you through my very private journey with JoAnn, my mother and best friend. My hope is that by offering you the truth about my experiences, as well as suggestions on how to exercise humor and grace, it may help you to better cope with your loved one’s behavioral changes.
Perspective is everything and altering mine was just what the doctor ordered.
You can purchase the book online from Smashwords and/or Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Wheres-My-Purse-T-Sorensen/dp/1499370806.
eBook formatting and cover design by Shelley Glasow at goodlifeguide.com
By Nina Jon
PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A NOVELLA OF JUST UNDER 100 PAGES. These stories poke a bit of fun at Golden Age Murder Mysteries in places. They’re aimed at people who like to have a bit of fun as well as solving a murder. If you don’t like to do that, please don’t buy them. Indigo Black writes to each of his beloved stepchildren, inviting them to lunch at Blackstone Manor the next day, where he has an important announcement to make. Just what that announcement is, his invitation doesn’t say. When they arrive, Detective Inspector Magpie of Scotland Yard is already there, alongside sidekick Sepia Brown. Why so? Because Indigo Black has disappeared off the face of the earth. Is his disappearance linked to the revelation that one of his stepchildren might be the missing accomplice in the pink diamond jewellery? The Magpie’s governor at Scotland Yard thinks so, and has sent the Magpie to investigate. Who disappeared Indigo Black? Colonel Jocquin Colman? Mme Sapphire Azure? Professor Mauvino Mulberry? Ms Blanche Alabaster? The Reverend Malachi Khaki? Ms Scarletta Crimson? Dr Gray? Some other shady character? This is the question our big brained detective needs to answer if he is ever to discover what happened to Indigo Black and bring the culprit to justice. The One Without The Body is the fourth of the Magpie Murders – a series of short murder mysteries by Nina Jon. With each self-contained story at under 100 pages, the Magpie Murders are ideal for the morning commute, or when you want a quick read.
You can purchase the book online from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/One-Without-Body-Magpie-Murders/dp/1500712892.
eBook formatting by Shelley Glasow.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Smashwords has introduced new classification requirements for erotic fiction.
Starting today, when a new erotic fiction book is uploaded to Smashwords, or when updates are made to an existing erotic fiction book, a short supplemental check box questionnaire will appear. The questionnaire asks the author or publisher to confirm the absence or presence of certain taboo themes.
Smashwords will use this information to honor the distribution preferences of our retailers and library partners.
iBooks, Kobo and Barnes & Noble want to carry most mainstream erotic fiction, yet all disallow erotic fiction containing themes of incest, pseudo-incest, bestiality, rape-for-titillation and sexual slavery. iBooks and Kobo have prohibited these topics for several years. Last month, Barnes & Noble, once the most permissive of the major retailers, brought their policies into similar alignment.
The Erotica Classification Challenge
Retailers and libraries face special challenges with erotic fiction. To a certain extent, these challenges have cast a cloud over all self-published ebooks, including those that aren’t even erotic.
By way of example, witness the WHSmith Kobocalypse that occurred back in October 2013 when the Daily Mail wrote a salacious story about how a search for “daddy” pulled up taboo erotica alongside children’s books at UK retailer WHSmith, powered by Kobo. The next day, WHSmith removed all ebooks from self-published authors, including all non-erotica books. To this day, the size of WHSmith’s self-published catalogue is a small fraction of all the other major retailers.
Incidents like this jeopardize trust and confidence between retailers and the indie community. Although some might cast blame upon erotic writers who explore taboo themes, the true culprit in this challenge is a technology one, and it’s the challenge we’re tackling with today’s announcement.
Most retailers utilize standardized classification systems such as BISAC to determine the appropriate virtual shelf for your ebook. This enables customers who want to read books in any subject to find your book. For example, a fan of paranormal romance will look on the fiction: romance: paranormal shelf, and a fan of political thrillers might look under fiction: thriller: political.
Whereas a typical physical bookstore might only offer a couple dozen book sections under high level categories, the BISAC classification system defines over 4,400 unique categories. BISAC is what makes it possible for ebook retailers to create thousands of specialized, micro-targeted virtual ebook shelves, if they choose. BISAC (or its international equivalent, Thema) makes it easy for customers to find books on their favorite specialized subjects.
These classification systems also enable retailers to set rules within their store that can keep certain books away from readers who should not see them or who don’t want to see them. For example, retailers don’t want a violent adult horror novel appearing alongside books for children.
But with erotic fiction, the BISAC classification system falls short. BISAC provides only a few categorization options for erotic literature. All of the options describe mainstream commercial erotica categories such as General Erotic Fiction, BDSM, Erotica Collections & Anthologies, Gay, Lesbian, Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror, and Traditional Victorian.
Our largest retailers want to carry the mainstream erotica.
However, there are no BISAC categories for the more taboo themes mentioned above. This means that heretofore, authors of these taboo subjects were forced to classify their books in a BISAC category that was inaccurate or inadequate.
Restoring Confidence and Trust
The lack of support for taboo subjects in BISAC has negative implications for retailers, libraries, authors, publishers and readers alike.
It makes it difficult for retailers to select which erotic titles they want to carry. It diminishes the trust retailers and libraries have in self-published erotic content since the books they want are mixed with the books they don’t want.
When a retailer (or distributor such as Smashwords, for that matter) must guess about the presence of certain taboo themes based on indirect inputs such as book title, book descriptions, book content and keywords, it creates an untenable, error-prone situation where disallowed books are distributed to retailers that don’t want them, and where acceptable books are accidentally removed by retailers.
Our new approach empowers those who know their content best – the author or publisher – to directly categorize and certify the erotic themes of their books. This will give our sales channels greater confidence to receive the erotica they want while avoiding the titles they don’t want.
The new Smashwords classification system is built on trust. We trust our authors and publishers to accurately categorize their books, and we trust they recognize it’s in their best interest to do so. As is our practice, we will continue to monitor all Smashwords titles for compliance with the Smashwords Terms of Service. Those who jeopardize this trust through deliberate misclassification will face account closure.
Already, Gardners, a Smashwords distribution partner that previously did not accept any erotica, will begin taking erotica certified as mainstream following the launch this erotica classification initiative. Other Smashwords retailers and library platforms are also taking advantage of our new approach to allow the taboo themes they want while blocking those they don’t want. Most retailers, for example, want to continue receiving dubcon erotica since dubcon is a common theme is mainstream fiction.
Start Certifying Today
The new classification system is in place today, and visible from the Smashwords publish page for all new uploads.
When an author selects any erotic classification (including erotic romance) as a primary or secondary category for their book, we will display a questionnaire to collect supplemental information. The author or publisher will certify which themes are absent or present. Authors and publishers with previously uploaded erotic works will also be asked to certify those those works.
If you publish erotic fiction at Smashwords, please click to your Smashwords Dashboard now to certify either the absence or presence of these themes in your work.
For erotica authors and publishers with large backlists, we’ve created a bulk certification tool to expedite the certification process. The tool lists the questionnaires for up to 50 titles on the page at once. The tool is linked at the top of the Smashwords Dashboard and visible to all authors and publishers with uncertified erotic content.
Going forward, certification of erotic content is required for all new and existing erotic fiction titles at Smashwords. We’ll be in regular contact with our erotic authors and publishers over the next few months to help them complete the certification for all appropriate titles.
For erotica authors and publishers who neglect to certify their backlist titles, they risk the removal of those titles at the option of the retailer or library partner, even if the works don’t contain taboo themes. Certification = trust, so please certify your titles today.
Taboo Themes Defined
If you’re unsure how Smashwords and its partners define these themes, I’ve summarized the definitions below. We developed these definitions in close consultation with our largest retailers to ensure uniform policy enforcement.
Age play – One or more consenting adult characters role playing, pretending to be babies or children. Most retailers will take this, but iBooks will not.
Bestiality – Sexual relations between humans and real-world animals (sex with Big Foot, dinosaurs, shape shifters and other imaginary creatures is not bestiality). Few retailers will take this.
Dubious Consent (dubcon) – A common and popular theme in mainstream fiction. Dubcon explores the gray area between consent and non-consent. Not clear if the receiver of the sexual act was fully on board or not at the time of the act. Most retailers will take this.
Incest or pseudo-incest – Sexual relations between family members, whether biologically or non-biologically related. Includes stepbrother, stepsister and step-anyone. Few retailers will take this.
Nonconsensual sexual slavery – Erotic depiction of a person captured or held against their will, such as kidnapping, imprisonment or human trafficking. Not to be confused with BDSM, which is predicated upon informed consent and negotiation between both parties before the act, and which provides safe words so either partner can end the act if it goes too far. If the book adheres to BDSM best practices, do not classify it as Nonconsensual sexual slavery. Few retailers will take nonconsensual sexual slavery.
Rape for titillation – The dominant theme of this book is rape — whether the rape is by one person or a character is raped by a group of people, i.e. a gang rape or nonconsensual “gang bang” — and it targets readers who are titillated by the fantasy of nonconsensual sexual relations. Few retailers will take this.
Others not mentioned – The above list is not all inclusive. There are many other taboo themes that have never been allowed at Smashwords or our retailers (underage erotica, snuff, scat and necrophilia, for example). For a full summary of Smashwords erotica policies, please review Section 9f of the Smashwords Terms of Service.
Who Takes What?
Below is a chart showing delivery preferences for Smashwords retailers and library partners as of September 14, 2017. Please note Smashwords and all sales outlets always retain the right to refuse any title in any category for any reason. Current policies at each are subject to modification at any time.
Smashwords Erotica Delivery Policies
My thanks to Smashwords retailers and library partners for their advice, counsel and encouragement as we developed this new classification approach. Thank you to my friend Cecilia Tan for her wise input regarding definitions.
And thanks in advance to Smashwords erotica authors and publishers for their professionalism, cooperation and patience as we work to implement this new system. I realize this will create extra work for you. In the long run, however, our work here will help preserve maximum distribution opportunities for all indies.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Smashwords today introduced Global Pricing Control, a new feature that gives authors and publishers control over their ebook pricing in 248 different countries and in 152 local currencies.
Pricing control is now in your hands, where it belongs.
If you’re running a BookBub ad where you need your book priced at $.99 in Australia, Canada, and the US, and £ .99 Pound Sterling in the UK and 99 Rupees in India, you can now lock down these special prices with with a few clicks.
If you want your ebook priced at € 5.99 Euro in Germany and € 2.99 Euro in Spain, Italy and Portugal (where the median per capita income for each of these last three is less than half of Germany’s), you now have the freedom to price for a specific market.
The new feature is available now from your Smashwords Dashboard. Click to Global pricing to set custom prices for any country.
When you enter a custom price, the screen will display the USD equivalent as a reference point.
Click the lock icon to lock the price in. Once a lock is activated, the lock icon turns green and the custom price is transmitted to retailers.
You’ll see a summary of your locked prices in the right hand panel.
Your custom prices will remain locked until you unlock them.
Prior to this new feature, Smashwords set foreign currency pricing automatically by converting the author’s US Dollar price to other currencies based on foreign exchange rates on the date of the author’s upload or most recent update. For authors who choose not to lock in custom global pricing, Smashwords will continue to set global prices based on current exchange rates.
Global pricing control is helpful for authors who have to deal with Amazon’s draconian price match emails when Amazon’s own pricing gets out of sync with actual exchange rates.
The new feature is also boon for authors who want to sculpt their pricing to appear more appealing to customers in each local market.
Most authors will probably opt to set pricing that ends in .99 increments in the largest markets.
According to psychological pricing theory, a price ending in .99 is more appealing to consumers than a price a couple cents higher. This is also known as “charm pricing.” The theory holds that 4.99 is significantly more appealing than 5.01 because most consumers will consider a 4.99 ebook within the $4.00 price range and the 5.01 book within the $5.00 range.
For countries where different Smashwords retailers or library sales outlets price in different currencies, you can lock down multiple prices in multiple currencies. For example, Kobo and Gardners both sell ebooks in Australia, but Kobo prices in Australian dollars (AUD) while Gardners prices in British pounds (GBP). In this instance, you could set custom prices in both currencies for Australia.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
The publishing industry is reeling today after news broke this morning about Kindle Author, Amazon’s new service that generates high-quality fiction using complex software algorithms.
It’s like Build-A-Bear for ebooks. The reader tells Kindle Author what they want in a story, and then Kindle Author automatically generates the book .
In this post, I’ll explain how Kindle Author works and I’ll share never-before-seen screenshots of the service. I’ll explain the science that made this breakthrough possible, and then I’ll wrap by discussing what this means for Smashwords authors and the future of publishing.
How Kindle Author Works
Kindle Author is a new option for purchasing ebooks in the Kindle store. It’s receiving heavy promotion on the Amazon home page, which tells me Amazon is making the service a strategic priority for their business.
Amazon has modified all book listings pages to discourage
customers from purchasing real books. Click image to enlarge.
Amazon is also advertising Kindle Author directly on the book listings pages of all books in their store. A customer visits the listing page for a book written by a real author, and Amazon encourages the reader to create and read a free Kindle Author book instead.
At left I show how Amazon modified the book listing page for Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. “Don’t want this book?” asks Amazon front and center on the page. “Build your own for free with Kindle Author!”
Amazon’s overt move to redirect customers from human-authored books to machine-generated books is unprecedented, but it’s not a huge surprise considering how other Amazon-exclusive books already receive preferential merchandising in their store.
When Amazon launched their ebook subscription service Kindle Unlimited, they modified their book listings pages to encourage readers to obtain the book for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited subscription rather than purchasing a regular copy. If the customer obtains the Kindle Unlimited version of a book, Amazon pays the author a lower royalty. Good for Amazon and its customers, but not so great for authors and publishers.
Once the customer clicks to Kindle Author, they’re presented with a simple point and click interface of pull-down menus and radio buttons. It’s quite easy to use. It’s even fun. It’s like color by numbers, but with words.
Customers select story characteristics from among thousands of different options. As you can see in my screen shots at left and below, some of the radio button options are a bit quirky, but this is probably deliberate because it makes for better fiction.
A reader can tell Kindle Author, for example, they want to read a medieval epic fantasy of two million words that involves kings, queens, princesses, swordplay, intrigue, castles, a sexy young mother of dragons, and a stainless steel throne made out of spoons and forks.
Look out, George R.R. Martin. Game of Thrones has met its match.
Kindle Author gives readers the option of having the book written in the style of their favorite authors. That’s right, if you want your paranormal romance written in the style of Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac or Jane Austin, it’s yours with the the click of a button.
You can even choose to have public domain books rewritten in the style of other authors, or in a style that blends multiple authors.
If you want the King James Bible rewritten in the blended styles of the voice of God, Douglas Adams, Richard Dawkins, and Charles Darwin, it’s yours for asking. It’s an absurd combination, but you begin to see how Kindle Author opens up myriad possibilities to create different and unexpected forms of fiction.
With thousands of user-configurable options, it’s unlikely any two readers would ever select the exact same combination of story options. To prevent this from happening, Amazon built in creative story randomness so that two ordered stories derived from the same characteristics will be different. No two Kindle Author books will ever be the same.
Once the reader makes final selections, Kindle Author compiles an intricate, well crafted, original full-length novel in an instant. It takes between ten seconds and two minutes for the story to appear on your Kindle, depending on length and complexity, but who’s counting. It’s lightning fast.
The Disruptive Business Model Behind Kindle Author
Kindle Author is free to readers who use it to generate their next read. Each reader-generated Kindle Author book is automatically published into the Kindle store priced at $.99, and the reader is credited as the author and earns royalties of five cents per download whenever anyone else reads the book. All Kindle Author books remain exclusive to the Kindle store.
I think we’re witnessing the future of authorship.
Soon, tens of millions of readers will begin publishing billions of high-quality, low-cost books written in the styles of the greatest authors of all time (and the greatest indie Smashwords authors too!). The more readers read, the more they’ll publish and earn. Lazy readers who don’t want to configure their made-to-order custom books can read Kindle Author books produced by other readers for $.99 each, or they can read them free as part of an Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited subscription.
Books generated by Kindle Author are almost pure profit for Amazon. It costs nothing to produce each ebook, and the five cent per copy royalty to the Kindle Author reader is covered from Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited subscription fees, not to mention profits from Amazon’s other diversified lines of business.
After playing with Kindle Author, I’m blown away by the quality of the produced work. I must admit I really like it, even though it’s horrible news for human authors everywhere.
Judging from early customer reaction, I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for Kindle Author.
It won’t be long before we hear talk of Kindle Author millionaires – those readers who configure and create the new bestsellers of tomorrow. Or today. It’s already happening. At this very moment, ninety-eight of the top 100 bestselling books at Amazon are Kindle Author books, and the books are earning five star reviews on average.
Here are a couple reviews that caught my eye:
“I ordered a paranormal steampunk thriller featuring alien mongooses, blimps, trains and a Victorian clockmaker. I was hooked from the first sentence and stayed up all night until I finished the last page. Thank you Jeff Bezos. I love you!!!”
This next reader’s comments will chill the bones of publishers.
“When I first heard of Kindle Author, I was skeptical. I thought it was impossible for a machine to reproduce the creative magic of my favorite authors. Boy, was I wrong. Now that I’ve read books *I* created with Kindle Author, I’m never going to buy another novel written by a human. Human novels are so banal and tired compared to the mind-blowing experience of a Kindle Author book. I don’t know how Amazon did it. You need to try it to believe it!”
The Publishing Industry Reacts
The publishing industry, as you might imagine, is horrified by Kindle Author. For authors and publishers alike, Kindle Author is what the post-authorial apocalypse looks like.
Several publishers are considering a class action lawsuit against Amazon.
The US Department of Justice has launched a preliminary investigation into Kindle Author on the grounds it may be anti-competitive, though legal experts expect the DOJ to side with Amazon since Kindle Author essentially pays readers to read books. If the government can’t prove consumers are harmed, they won’t have a case.
For many authors and publishers, news of Kindle Author confirms the industry’s worst fear that Amazon is on a mission to commoditize books and turn authors and publishers into tenant farmers tilling Amazon soil. Now Amazon is cutting out the author – the ultimate middleman – by making the reader the author.
But not all industry participants are so pessimistic. At least two authors are excited by how Kindle Author will improve publishing.
Author avatar for Hew Howling
Hew Howling, a bestselling author, had this to say on his Howling at the Moon blog:
Critics of Kindle Author should stop their incessant whining. I celebrate Amazon for this innovation. Kindle Author drives a stake through the hearts of the tyrannical, gatekeeping, legacy publishing dinosaur blood-suckers in New York. This is what publishers deserve for over-pricing their ebooks, underpaying authors and for believing publishers – not Amazon – should set ebook prices. I commend Amazon for bringing customers the highest-quality ebooks at the lowest possible price. Rather than attacking Amazon, Amazon’s competitors should innovate like Amazon. If publisher books are so incredible, they can beat Amazon by paying readers to read their books, just like Amazon is doing now.
Joe Dothraki, a popular thriller writer I respect, and an outspoken advocate for self publishing, had this to say on his blog, The Newbies Guide to Amazon:
“Kindle Author is f****** awesome. It will crimp my earnings in the short run, but business is business and this isn’t a game for wimps. Read the writing on the walls, folks. First cave painters were replaced by monk scribes, then monk scribes were replaced by publishers, then publishers were replaced by indie authors, and now authors are replaced by readers. As legacy authors, we need to evolve with the times by repositioning ourselves as readers. I’m going to start reading more books than ever thanks to Kindle Author. Kindle Author will increase my publication output to at least 30 titles per month. That’s 360 titles a year I’ll be releasing. For the first time ever, Amazon has made reading more profitable than writing. Thank you, Amazon!”
The Science Behind Kindle Author
Regardless of how you feel about Kindle Author’s impact on the publishing industry, it’s difficult to not feel smitten by the science behind this important advance in artificial creativity.
The story behind how Amazon made this happen is fascinating, and it all starts with the human brain.
Our brains are comprised of about 80 billion neurons, and these neurons transmit electrical impulses. Neurons in the human brain connect via synapses to form a vast neural network. It’s from the complex interplay of these electrical impulses that humans gain consciousness, memories, desires, creativity, the biological wherewithal to breathe and reproduce, and the desire to read and write great stories.
Amazon, which operates the infrastructure that powers a lot of the Internet already, realized the human brain is simply a massive computer network made up of these billions of neural nodes and trillions of synaptic connections. When viewed in this light, it’s not such a leap for Amazon to create a computer network that mimics the neurological processes associated with creativity in the human brain.
Jeff Bezos Challenges Amazon Engineers to Reinvent Books
Jeff Bezos gave his researchers an audacious challenge: If DNA contains the genetic building blocks of information that allow a living organism to function, grow and reproduce, then why can’t we decode the DNA of story-making? Why can’t we give birth to unique books that are every bit as diverse, interesting and mind-blowing as human beings themselves? Let’s not just equal the quality of human-written books – let’s create better and cheaper books. Let’s reinvent books!
With that mandate, and operating the secret project under the code name of Project Elysium, Amazon’s researchers embarked on an ambitious project to deconstruct and map the genome of stories.
Prior to today’s announcement, many scientists believed it was impossible for computers to create aesthetically pleasing literature. Stories require massive complexity and nuance. But like all complex problems, once you break the problem down into smaller pieces, the challenge becomes solvable. And this is what Amazon did.
To create better books, Amazon needed to do better than the human brain. A single author writes from just a single brain. What if Amazon could harness the power of many brains? Amazon’s researchers decided to build a massive parallel computer network comprising 500 trillion virtual nodes. To put this in perspective, it’s the equivalent to the neural connectivity and creative horsepower of a hive mind of 50,000 interconnected human brains. Amazon is creating the Borg of books.
Their next challenge was to teach the neural network the logic and illogic of human artistic creativity, and how to string words into stories that please readers.
Amazon’s researchers started by deconstructing the book into its essential components. Leveraging their massive catalog of over five million titles, Amazon applied algorithmic spiders to scan and analyze the words of all the books.
Next Amazon hired thousands of underemployed English majors and MFA graduates who worked from home over the Internet. These temporary workers were required to sign non-disclosure and non-compete agreements and agreed to not work in any writing field for at least 48 months. This secrecy explains why rumors of Project Elysium never leaked to the press. To further ensure secrecy, team members worked solo and only interfaced with their handlers operating out of call centers in India staffed by biomechanical engineers, software programmers, behavioral psychologists, endocrinologists, and mathematicians. Workers were never told the ultimate end-purpose of their work.
Amazon divided the literary workers into multiple groups, each tasked with exploring a different aspect of the book genome.
One group was tasked with mapping the sentence structures of 20,000 bestselling books and 5,000 cultural classics. Using computer-assisted cloud-based tools, the workers diagrammed the structure of each sentence of every book in excruciating detail down to the subjects, predicates, nouns, pronouns, participles, gerunds, infinitives, passive and active verbs, adjectives, interjections and adverbs, compound subjunctives, and reverse triple superlatives. I’m an author and I don’t even know what all these things are.
Another team analyzed the plots and subplots of each book, tagging each sentence’s location and role within the overall plot structure.
Yet another team mapped the story’s tension, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph.
Another team mapped the evolution of each character’s relationships with the other characters, and each character’s backstory sentence by sentence.
Another team identified the 2,000 most common plots and subplot variations found in popular and literary fiction.
And another team documented and mapped story arcs, and tied key points in each major and minor arc back to the text locations.
Several thousand linguistic experts studied the words, patterns and rules of each book that served as the connective tissue to string words into coherent sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, sections and stories. A team of mathematicians translated these rules into algorithmic equations that would enable the automated production of original books.
From this complex and multi-layered analysis began to emerge the basic building blocks of what makes a story a story.
But missing from the analysis was an understanding of the mechanics of successful storytelling. What makes a story a great story from the reader’s point of view? How does a story gain spirit? Where does reading pleasure come from? For this, Amazon needed live human subjects, and they had millions of unwitting readers at their disposal in the form of Kindle owners.
Starting in early 2012, and unknown until today, Amazon secretly installed sensors around the edges of all Kindle devices. These sensors capture the reader’s temperature, heart rate, perspiration rates, blood pressure, vasodilation, and neuro-electric signals in real time, and then Amazon used these factors as biomarkers to monitor the reader’s emotional state. With this data, they could identify when the brain released endorphins, the “feel good” chemical in the brain. Amazon then mapped these emotional markers to specific page and sentence locations in the book, and then cross-correlated the hormonal responses across the same trigger points in millions of other books.
From this massive store of data, they were able to identify words, sentence structures, patterns, pacing, story lines, plots, and character interplay required to deliver massive endorphin releases to the reader’s brain. If this sounds like Amazon was aiming to create the books that act on the brain like heroin (and are equally addictive), you’re right.
Leveraging the predictive patterns they discovered, Amazon created software capable of generating imaginative and original reader-pleasing books featuring fully realized characters and story lines.
It’s quite unbelievable how scientists, mathematicians, programmers, and English lit majors joined together to create better, cheaper, more addictive books.
What’s also interesting to me is every book’s creator – the reader – brings a different background, purchase history, and Kindle Author configuration, and this in turn shapes the characters Kindle Author creates for the book. These characters aren’t two dimensional stick figures. Instead, they’re multidimensional and always unique. It’s like they’re truly alive.
Just as the stories of our own lives are shaped by the chance and random interpersonal interactions we have with other people we meet, the characters and story lines of Kindle Author books are shaped by the interplay of the story’s unique characters. Not even the masterminds behind Kindle Author know how the story will end until their algorithms crank out the last word and period.
Traditional authorship feels quaint by comparison. Will writers ever want to write another book when their works will fall so short of the new perfection? Or will writers begin using Kindle Author as a tool to amplify their true potential? Only time will tell.
The final thing I find difficult to believe is that I chose April 1st to share this unbelievable news with you.
April 1st is a day more commonly known as April Fool’s Day, a day for pranks. My apologies to anyone who was fooled by this blog post. This has been a work of fiction, for the time being at least.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Smashwords today announced Special Deals, a new merchandising feature at the Smashwords Store that showcases onsale books.
Effective immediately, your onsale ebooks will receive automatic merchandising through the Smashwords Store’s myriad book discovery options.
Most authors know Smashwords as the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks to retailers and libraries, and this remains our primary business focus. But did you also know that thousands of Smashwords authors use our small Smashwords Store as their personal ebook promotion platform with profile pages, widgets, Smashwords Interviews (self-interviews), Smashwords Alerts (automated new release notifications to readers) and coupons?
The new feature is powered by Smashwords Coupons.
Click the box for “Make this a public coupon”
To run a sale, click to your Dashboard’s Coupon Manager screen, click “Generate coupon” or click to reactivate or edit an existing coupon, then follow the simple instructions to make your coupon public.
Of the many book marketing tools provided to Smashwords authors at no cost, Smashwords Coupons have been one of our most popular tools since we first introduced the capability almost ten years ago.
Each month, thousands of Smashwords authors use Smashwords Coupon codes to run custom ebook promotions. Authors can create coupon codes to run exclusive private (the most common form of Smashwords Coupon) or public promotions, all the while earning industry-leading royalties up to 80% list.
We’ve continually enhanced the Smashwords Coupon feature since its first introduction. In the last 12 months alone we added campaign tracking (unique labels attached to each coupon to enable campaign sales tracking), metered coupons (limiting the number of redemptions if you want to create urgency with a first-come first-served get-’em-while-they-last promotion) and most recently in December, public coupons (the option to expose your coupon codes directly on your book pages).
As with our all Smashwords Coupons, Special Deals will not change your price at retailers (if you want to run a sale at all Smashwords retailers, change the book’s price in your Dashboard).
In this screen shot, the customer is filtering for bestsellers
over 100,000 words with Special Deals priced $2.99 or less
For readers, Special Deals makes it easier than ever to discover onsale ebooks at Smashwords. Most of these deals are exclusive to Smashwords.
Readers can browse the Special Deals catalog from the Smashwords home page and filter by category, book length, latest releases, bestsellers, after-coupon prices, and highest-rated. Books with Special Deals are also discoverable in all other online catalogue searches.
Customers can take advantage of Special Deals simply by adding the onsale ebooks to their shopping carts. No need for readers to enter coupon codes!
Although this new feature increases the visibility of your onsale ebooks, to get the most out of your sale you’ll still want to get out there and actively promote your deal on social media and to your private mailing lists.
If you’ve got a large readership or social media following, Special Deals is a great way to run short term flash sales.
You can spice up your promotion and make it more compelling by combining other Smashwords Coupon features such as using our metered coupons to make your special deal available to the first [you specify] number of readers who take advantage of it, or by giving your Special Deal a short expiration.
When you promote your Special Deal, be sure to link directly to your book’s book page at Smashwords to maximize your conversion rates from browser to buyer. If you’re able to drive enough sales from your personal promotion efforts, it can cause your book to rise in the sales rank at Smashwords which then will increase the visibility and desirably of your books to other shoppers who browse our bestseller lists by category, price or book length for their next great read. Since our store is small, it doesn’t take a lot of sales to significantly boost your rank.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Ninth Annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale Kicks off Sunday!
For writers – the 2017 Smashwords Survey is out
Your Smashwords page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/goodlifeguide
Smashwords account login email: email@example.com
1. JULY SUMMER/WINTER SALE STARTS SATURDAY JULY 1
It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. This can mean only one thing: It’s time for the 9th annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale!
The sale kicks off this Saturday July 1 and runs through end of day July 31.
Each year, tens of thousands of Smashwords authors, publishers and readers participate in this global ebook celebration that offers FREE and deep-discounted ebooks.
Please help spread the word to your fellow readers, authors and publishers. Encourage your favorite authors to add books to the promotion.
How to participate:
Readers: The promotion goes live starting Saturday July 1 and runs through July 31. Visit the promotional catalog at https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1 Check back frequently because hundreds of new books will join the promotion each week. Coupon codes are clearly marked for participating titles: SW100 for 100% off; SSW75 for 75% off; SSW50 for 50% off; and SSW25 for 25% off.
Authors and publishers: Enroll your books at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromos
When you discover a great deal from a favorite author, share the deal on social media!
This promotion is exclusive to the Smashwords store. It will not impact prices at other retailers. Enjoy!
2. FOR WRITERS: THE SMASHWORDS SURVEY IS OUT
Share this with your writer friends.
Last week, we released our annual 2017 Smashwords Survey. This is our annual survey of ebook sales data where we share data-driven insights for how authors can make their books more discoverable, more desirable and more enjoyable.
Dozens of great insights are revealed, including data on pricing sweet spots, preorder effectiveness, and the impact of free series starters on overall series earnings.
View and download for free at http://blog.smashwords.com/2017/06/smashwords-survey-2017.html
3. HELPFUL RESOURCES
Frequently asked questions
Smashwords Site Updates
Smashwords blog (subscribe today via the email option!)
How to Publish ebooks (4-part presentation)
Smashwords Video Workshops
Create a Smashwords Interview (self-interviews)
Smashwords Series Manager (Manage series metadata)
Smashwords Coupon Manager (Create custom coupon codes)
How to publish and distribute ebooks with Smashwords
Connect with fellow Smashwords readers and authors at Facebook
Mark’s List – Low cost cover designers and ebook formatters
Enjoy the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale, and please tell a friend!
To Access Your Smashwords Account:
To sign in to your account: Click to https://www.smashwords.com.
In the sign in box, enter your email address: firstname.lastname@example.org followed by your password.
If you forgot your password, click “forgot password” link to generate a new one.
We respect the email and privacy settings of our registered members. In no cases do we share, rent or sell our member lists. As a Smashwords member, you are in full control of your communications settings.