Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

What to do with an Amazon review containing spoilers

I set out the other day to start a blog post on an entirely different subject when I noticed this review out on Amazon for The Five Elements:

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No one likes getting 1 star reviews, though I'm finding so many are of the "dump and run" type that it's easy to ignore them. Given that this person chose to give me a 1 star review solely because he didn't like the novel's ending further discredits the review, IMO. Also, this review is so short, indicating the reviewer gave very little consideration to it, and written with maybe the grammar level of a 1st grader (am I insulting 1st graders with that snipe?), that it would have been easy to put it out of my mind if the person didn't also GIVE AWAY A HUGE PART OF THE ENDING IN THE REVIEW.

As you can see, I blocked out the spoiler. If you really want to see it, jump out to Amazon and check it out. My immediate reaction was to contact Amazon about either removing the review or, at the very least, editing it to remove the spoiler. Long story short, after a brief exchange over email, I heard from an Amazon "senior" customer service rep who basically told me the review was not in violation of their guidelines and that they therefore would not do anything about the situation.

Funny thing is, including spoilers in a review without indicating that the review contains spoilers is a violation of their guidelines. But only if you look at the right set of guidelines.

Turns out Amazon has two sets:

General Review-Creation Guidelines

General Review Creation Guidelines

Those listed under "General Review-Creation Guidelines" look like this:

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The ones under "General Review Creation Guidelines" look like this:

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There's a subtle but oh-so-important difference: the second set of guidelines points out as its very first bullet point under "Inappropriate content":

Inappropriate content:
Crucial plot elements (unless you offer a clear "spoiler alert")

Seems pretty clear to me. I presented this information to Amazon and they basically ignored it. So much for that. The review—and the spoiler—remain. My options are limited. I suppose I could unpublish the eBook and maybe re-publish under a different name/ASIN. I'm not ready for that extreme of a step, though. Not to mention, what's to stop someone else from just doing the same thing? Amazon clearly takes a very hands-off approach inasmuch as customer reviews are concerned, going so far as to ignore their own guidelines.

It's nice to know, however, that I wasn't the only one put off by this person's lapse in judgment. Numerous people posted comments against the person's review saying hey, no spoilers. Unfortunately, I doubt the reviewer will ever see those comments or bother to take action because of them. Also, the review has been so slammed by people marking it as 'unhelpful' that it's been pushed to the bottom of the 11 reviews out there right now. I can only hope people do not walk away knowing too much because of it.

So, basically I'm left with a bad review (which I can handle) that contains a major spoiler (which I remain annoyed about). It's a disservice to me and to potential readers which apparently is going to remain unresolved. I've posted my own comments out there as well, pointing out to the reviewer the error of his ways. Again, I doubt he has enough sense to take action and correct his lapse in judgment.

Sadly, I've spoken with other authors who have had similar reviews and similar inaction taken on Amazon's part.

I'll continue to stew a bit, but life will go on. I'll keep writing, too.

Amazon cuts Kindle price to $189

Kindle Today Amazon.com cut the price of their Kindle eReader from $259 to $189. The last price cut for the device was in October of last year. Barnes & Noble prompted Amazon's price cut with one of their own as they lowered the price on their popular nook eReader while also introducing a wi-fi only model.

I think most people have been expecting this move since late last year when Barnes & Noble released their competing eReader, the nook, and especially now that Apple's iPad has proven itself a viable contender (and more depending on who you ask) in the eReader space.

I received my Kindle as a Christmas gift last year. My first impressions were favorable. As far as dedicated devices go, it's top-notch. I wouldn't want to have waited for this price drop, either. I've read about an eBook per week since turning the device on, so I think I've gotten some good use out of it. Of course, for someone new to the device, a lower price justifies the purchase that much more.

Back in April of 2009, iSuppli opened up a Kindle 2, identified the parts, and, based on their findings, figured out what the device really costs. Their finding: $185.49. I'm going to guess that component and manufacturing costs have since come down because otherwise that leaves Amazon with a paltry profit of $3.51.

The last point I want to make about this latest price reduction is to ask the question once more: Is now the time to buy a Kindle? No doubt, it makes the idea more compelling. But times have changed. There are viable competitors out there, including a just announced version of the nook with wi-fi only for $149. Apple's iPad is still hovering at $499, though the iPad is much more than just an eReader.

In any case, competition is always good from a consumer perspective; it drives prices down and hastens new development. For me, I still just need an eReader device, but it's nice to know prices are coming down while functionality continues to climb to new heights.

Kindle

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Amazon to remove free eBooks from Kindle Bestseller List

The news about how Amazon intends to remove free eBook titles from the Kindle Bestseller List is a couple of days old now, but I still wanted to comment on a few points.

The article states that currently "the top ten bestselling titles on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list are free downloads". I took a quick look and found that, actually, the first nine out of ten are free. The tenth is not. Not a big deal, and not one of the points I wanted to make. But here's the list for nostalgia purposes if nothing else:

Top 10 on the Kindle Bestseller List What's interesting about this list is that none of the titles are self-published. In other words, publishers put these titles in the Kindle store figuring (or hoping) they'll show up on the bestseller list. Getting noticed in the ocean of titles that is the Kindle store is hard. But if you get on the Bestseller List… People readily see the titles there and when you can download it for free, what's not to like? Of course publishers are hoping that if you do like that one book that you'll then pick up another by the same author, except this time putting down the cash for it.

HarperCollins did this with Robin Hobb's Dragon Keeper. It's the first of a trilogy, so assuming you like it, you're probably going to get books two and three. That's usually how it works with me, anyway.

But this game is about to change. Amazon intends to split the list: one for pay titles, another for free. The effect of this is that publisher's free promotions might become less effective:

An executive at HarperCollins said she thinks Amazon is certainly doing the right thing by splitting the list, noting that consumers “want to know what books everyone is reading, and buying, ” and that a list which combines free downloads and books for sale doesn’t deliver this information. When asked if she thought the separation of the lists might make promotional e-book giveaways less effective, she said it might.

Time will tell. Amazon will start splitting bestsellers based on price in "a few weeks".

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Kindle: First Impressions

fancyfembot_kindle2Apparently I was good last year, because Santa brought me a Kindle for Christmas.

My overall opinion of the Kindle: I love it. So much so that given the option of buying an eBook over a traditional book, I'll take the eBook every time.

The following are some initial impressions. Note the word "initial". My opinions of these items might change in the future; it'd be interesting to revisit this topic maybe a few months from now when I've really had a chance to give the Kindle a good trial period.

Dimensions/Weight

The device is small—much smaller than I had anticipated even though I knew the dimensions ahead of time (the exact dimensions from Amazon's web site are 8" x 5.3" x 0.36", or 203.2mm x 134.6mm x 9.1mm)—and light, weighing in at 10.2 ounces (289.2 grams).

Comfort Factor

How often have you heard people saying how much they love curling up with a good book? I like that, too, except I'm now doing it with my Kindle. In an easy chair, my Kindle rests nicely in my lap/against my leg. In bed, about the same. Either way, because the device is so light, it rests comfortably in one hand. Turning pages with the device in one hand is as easy as a click of the thumb. There are "Next Page" buttons on either side, making page turning very convenient.

Performance

I recently read a blog post where the poster decried how slow the page turning on Kindle is. I'll be damned if I can find it, though, or I'd provide a link. Here's the post. I've found just the opposite: the Kindle turns pages in less than a second. I can't explain the disparity. Pulling up full dictionary entries is a little slow (Kindle gives you a quick definition almost instantly) and, as might be expected, accessing the Kindle Store varies based on the speed of the 3G connection at the time. Still, once you're on, I experienced very little lag when going from one item to the next.

The E Ink Display

The eInk screen is amazing. When I first unboxed my Kindle I peeled away a clear, protective covering that covered the front of the entire device. There was another film—this with basic instructions for activating the Kindle—over the screen itself, or so I thought. As I went to peel it away I realized that what I thought was a film of printed instructions was actually instructions on the screen itself. The clarity is a thing of beauty. There is no flicker (eInk displays do not refresh like traditional CRT's or LCD's) and the crispness of the characters and text is of no less quality than an actual printed page. I've read for hours without any eyestrain issues. I could probably read all day and not have any problems.

Battery Life

Battery life is a non-issue. I've been using it for days—off and on of course—and the battery level has barely budged. I'm keeping the wireless off, which extends battery life even longer. I believe the Kindle with the 3G wireless off will go for over a week without a charge.

5-way Controller

The 5-way controller (the little joystick-like thing) is a nice navigation device, but it's a bit difficult getting a hold of it. It barely rises above the plane of the device (probably a good thing otherwise you might accidentally break it off), but because of that it's sometimes hard to manipulate. I've been kind of getting the tip of my nail on it, which seems to work ok. I guess what I'm afraid of is pushing down on it (the fifth 'way') when I really just want to move the cursor over.

Built-in Dictionary

The built-in dictionary is a nice touch. Just move the 5-way controller to the word you want to retrieve a definition for and a short definition appears at the bottom of the screen. You can then press one of the small keys at the bottom of the device to get a full-page, more thorough definition.

Bookmarks and Annotations

Bookmarking and adding annotations is easy. Bookmarking is achieved with the press of a button. Likewise, adding notes/annotation is just as easy: just use the 5-way controller to navigate to a word and start typing.

Probably the coolest thing about annotations and bookmarks: with the introduction of Kindle for PC, I have instant access to all of my bookmarks and annotations while I'm on my laptop. All Kindle applications (Kindle for PC, Kindle for iPhone) are automatically synched with my Kindle eReader. eBooks, bookmarks, annotations, even my current reading location are all synched across the full spread of Kindle devices/apps for which I have registered. What this means for me is that annotations and bookmarks I add while reading on my Kindle will automatically show up in the Kindle for PC app, so when I'm writing up a book review I have instant access to all of my thumbnail information. No more bending pages or writing down page numbers.

Free PDF Conversion

Kindle supports native viewing of PDF's now, which basically means you can copy PDF's to the device and view them without any conversion. The problem I found with this is your average page in a PDF is not formatted correctly for viewing on an eReader. An initial experiment yielded a page where the type was so small it was unreadable. Not only that but it cut off lines at the bottom, or chopped them in half, anyway. You cannot resize fonts when viewing PDF's.

There is a cure for this: Amazon offers free PDF to AZW (Kindle format) conversion. Also, Kindle reads MOBI/PRC format natively, also. Another way to deal with this is to use calibre, a free, open-source eBook management application. calibre supports the conversion of many eBook file formats, one of which is MOBI. Kindle can read MOBI format natively, though I'll sub-note this for now with the disclosure that I have not tried this process out myself yet to see how Kindle renders MOBI files. The best option I've found for converting files to MOBI/PRC format is the free Mobipocket eBook Creator software. MOBI/PRC files (the file formats are the same though they do have different file extensions) look just fine on the Kindle, and Mobipocket Creator seems to produce the best MOBI/PRC formatted files.

Conclusion

Like I said at the start, these are only initial impressions. I think I'll revisit this topic in maybe 6 months if not sooner just to see if my opinion of any of these points has changed.

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com (this post) 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

While I've written a post or two about Amazon, their Kindle e-reader, and how much you'll make selling your e-book in the Kindle store, I never have delved into the details of how to publish with Amazon. In this post I'll therefore jump into the tools and resources available to make this happen, including information on Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program, their Digital Text Platform, Digital Text Platform Community Support forum, and Amazon Author Central.

First thing's first, though: publishing an e-book in the Kindle store is not exactly the same thing as having a traditional print book listed on their site. For one, anyone can publish to the Kindle store regardless of your current or previous publishing status (or lack thereof). The only requirement is that you have an e-book to sell (and that you own the rights to it).

With that, let's jump into it.

Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program

From the Kindle storefront you'll see a link at the left called "Publish on Kindle"

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This is as good a starting place as any. From here, you can select the method by which you wish to upload content to the store (there are several methods depending on your relationship with Amazon) as well as a link to the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines, a pdf I found only marginally helpful. It really digs into the nuances of formatting a document, though, including information like this:

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Reminds of something out of one of my computer science texts. I didn't find this level of detail terribly helpful, and, in fact, it really isn't even necessary if you use Amazon's Digital Text Platform.

Digital Text Platform

Amazon's Digital Text Platform, or DTP, is the small or self-publisher's software platform of choice for listing content in the Kindle store. Don't expect anything fancy here: DTP is pretty barebones, but it does the job. With DTP, you can upload content (i.e., your e-book) to the Kindle store as well as download basic earnings reports once you've made some sales.

The publishing/upload process consists of (1) signing up for an Amazon account (if you do not already have one), (2) providing some details about your book (title, plot summary, etc.), (3) uploading a cover image, (4) uploading and previewing your entries, and (5) publishing.

I'll spend a little time going over each step, but also refer you to Amazon's Digital Text Platform Quick Start Guide, which provides a nice step-by-step approach to the five steps I listed (they go into a bit more detail than I intend to).

Step 1: Sign-up for an Amazon account

I'll assume you can handle this one and move right into step 2.

Step 2: Provide details about your e-book

Here's a screenshot with the information filled-in for my fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood:

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This information flows into the product listing page in the store once you've hit "publish" and looks like the usual Amazon product listing:

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Step 3: Upload a cover image

It's a good idea to have a cover image to attract potential buyers and to hopefully help your work stand out from the rest. If you don't specify a cover image, Amazon will give you one that says "no image available". Not the best way to start a relationship with a potential reader. Personally, I'm much more likely to skip over a book that does not have one. Whether the cover itself is compelling or professional is another matter entirely, and goes beyond the scope of this post.

Here is the cover I went with for The Hall of the Wood:

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And here it is when displayed in the store with the Kindle image attached:

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Step 4: Upload and preview your content

This is where you upload and preview your e-book. It's a pretty simple interface: specify the location of your e-book, click "Upload", and you're done.

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There is a note about file formats:

Note: For optimal results, please upload files in MS Word, HTML, or PRC format. Other formats such as PDF may lead to poor conversion quality. We are working to improve the conversion quality for PDF and other formats.

I uploaded in HTML format; it simply gave me the best results.

Previewing looks something like:

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Here's another page, chosen at random:

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Step 5: Set Your Price

This is a topic I covered when I asked the question, how much do you make selling through Amazon's Kindle store? I'll therefore leave that post to explain how Amazon's pricing works and how you should set yours.

The screenshot in DTP looks like:

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Step 6: Publish

Once you've got all your information set, you can publish to the Kindle store by clicking "Publish":

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Amazon has recently implemented a review process which states that new e-books or changes to existing ones can take up to five business days to gain approval, so you'll have to wait up to five business days before your e-book will be viewable in the store.

Digital Text Platform Community Support

One of the best resources for all things Kindle publishing is DTP's Community Support Forum. It's broken into 3 main sections: a general FAQ, Publisher Support, and Ask the Community. There's pretty standard forum sort of stuff in there, with a good mix of newbies and more experienced people contributing.

Amazon Author Central

Amazon Author Central is where authors are showcased. This is something new for e-book writers. While traditionally published authors have always been able to fill out their profiles here, it was only with the coming of the Kindle and then Amazon allowing anyone to sell books via the Kindle store that this area was opened to e-book authors.

Some of the things you can do on an author page include adding a personal photo and biography, you get an automatic bibliography based on the books Amazon has listed for you, and you can add an existing blog via your RSS feed or use the space to start a new one.

I added my own RSS feed to my Amazon Author Page and got this back:

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I was kind of hoping it would have grabbed the older posts, but oh well. Sometimes a space like this is a good for raising older posts from the dead, after all. Imagine this post will be the first to show up there.

That's it for Author Central. I tried to keep my bio short and to the point. Seemed like brevity was the best course of action. I included a link to my Twitter account as well as this web site, though Amazon does not allow HTML.

Conclusion

Whew! That's a lot of information. Hopefully you've stuck with me and seen the possibilities opening up if you've considered publishing your e-book in the Kindle store. There's no doubt this forum brings with it a major plus: the fact that millions of people every day (every hour?) might find your e-book and buy it. These are numbers that most of us just can't get on our own sites.

Next time I'll take a look at another online e-book publisher: Smashwords.com.

Resources


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