When Readers Think Their $4 Investment in Your Book Buys You

A rant.

iBooks Author Cover
The third of three books I self-published in 2012 as an experiment. Of the three, it did best.

Yesterday, I got an email from a guy who apparently bought my 2012 book, “iBooks Author: Publishing Your First Ebook.”

This book was one of three I self-published in early 2012 and it was available in a variety of ebook formats, as well as in print. It was the first book out about iBooks Author software and sold very well for the first year or so. Then, as most computer books do, it aged and pretty much died. I lost interest in writing for a while and never bothered to revise it.

I should mention here that it was the 84th book I’d written since 1991, so it wasn’t exactly my first rodeo.

The reader — who has the word “author” in his email address — sent his first message at 3:03 PM using the contact form on this website:

Hello,
Just spoke with Apple about how and where to publish iBook Author books and discovered that they can be viewed (read) not only on the iPad, but MacBooks and Mac Desktops and the iPhone. Your statement that iBook Author books can be viewed ONLY on the iPad is incorrect;

(Apparently some “authors” don’t realize that you end a sentence with a period (full stop, if you’re in the UK) and not a semicolon.)

First, I have to admit that I was surprised that anyone was still buying a five year old computer book. Second, I was surprised that anyone who would buy a computer book that old might think it had up-to-date information in it. I don’t know what version iBooks Author is up to — I don’t use it anymore — but I have to assume it’s past version 2.0. I wrote about 1.0 and my book was available less than a month after the software was released, when the only way to read an iBooks Author book was on an iPad. (The Mac OS app came later.) I responded:

That book was written for version 1 way back in 2012. That’s FIVE years ago. Things change. The book was not updated for changes.

Maria

Was I being rude? I don’t think so. But with all the time I spend on Twitter, I can’t even tell anymore. I deal with trolls daily and I half suspected I was being trolled. So I was only partially surprised when he replied 12 minutes later with:

Poor excuses. Doesn’t give you a whole lot of credibility

What the actual fuck? Seriously? This guy buys a 5-year-old book and thinks I don’t have credibility because the book is out of date?

I started to write a nasty response but deleted it. I went with sarcasm:

Whatever you say.

Maria

Eye RollingIt doesn’t appear in the message here, but I inserted the eye rolling emoji. I like that one. It sums up my thoughts about people who complain about things that they really have no right to complain about. Or when I encounter sheer stupidity. (I rolled my eyes a lot in the last few years of my marriage. Half the time, I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but it drove my wasband crazy.) I use it a lot on Twitter.

Eleven minutes later — this guy must have been sitting at his computer waiting for me to email him — he responds with a silly threat:

Perhaps I’ll simply return the book to Amazon and complain that it’s 5 years out of date and the so-called author doesn’t care.

This really cracks me up. Does he honestly think I care if he returns the book to Amazon? If he bought the $3.99 Kindle version, I only made $2.79 on it. I can’t even buy a cup of coffee for that, so it certainly isn’t going to break me. If he bought the $14.35 print version, the joke’s on him. I self published using print on demand and my printer does not allow returns. So Amazon has to keep the book and I don’t lose a dime.

And if he does tell them he’s returning it because the author doesn’t care, they’ll likely think the same thing I think: why the hell should the author care about someone dumb enough to buy a 5-year-old computer book and expect it to be completely accurate with the current version of the software?

Again, I started writing something nasty and deleted it. Instead, I went with this:

What do you expect me to do? Write you a special copy? Get real. You bought a 5 year old computer book and you expect it to cover the current software?

Return it.

Not exactly friendly, but who cares? I don’t make my living writing computer books anymore. I don’t know too many people who do. Did he honestly think his threat would get any action out of me? What kind of an idiot is he?

Anyway, that was the last I heard from him yesterday. I thought I was done with him. But in the morning, a new nasty-gram appeared in my email inbox:

You are so very typical of the slapdash, irresponsible, third-rate scribbler who never gets it quite right, doesn’t care, makes excuses and then plays stupid. Who was to know that the book was five years old and out of date? Why didn’t you update it? I would have. Sloppy.

Book Details
“Who was to know the book was five years old and out of date?” Anyone who read the book details on Amazon. Duh.

The sheer stupidity and obnoxiousness of this troll was beyond belief. He needed to be schooled and I was ready to do the schooling.

The kid gloves came off. I responded by saying exactly what I thought:

Wow! Your level of cluelessness is amazing. I’m trying to figure out why you include the word “author” in your email address. You can’t possibly be a real author.

For your information, I have written 86 books since 1991. I’ve worked with over a dozen publishers, including Random House, McGraw Hill, and Macmillan. (Ever hear of them?) I’ve had numerous bestsellers since 1998 — enough to finance the launching of a third career as a helicopter pilot. Yeah, the red helicopter that appears on my website is actually mine. How do you think I bought that? By being a “third-rate scribbler” selling “slapdash” books?

And now a dose of reality: publishers decide whether or not to update books based on sales potential. The book you bought sold relatively well in 2012 but as additional titles covering the same topic came out on the market, I determined that potential future sales for a new edition would not be sufficient to make the project worthwhile. If you were a REAL author, you would understand this basic principle of publishing as a business. But apparently, you’re just another writer who is going to lean on self-publishing as a vanity project. While you might be able to spend all of your time writing a book that no one will buy, I have much better things to do with my time. Hence, the book was not updated and is unlikely to be updated in the future.

I’d like to add here that your attitude really sucks and that it’s a good thing you’re exploring the world of self publishing because no real publisher would work with you.

Now return the book and go bother someone else. I’m done with you.

Maria

PS: Thanks so much for participating in this exchange of emails. It’s giving me something to blog about this morning. My readers are not going to believe this shit is real.

And then I blocked his email address so I wouldn’t get any of his crap again.

I can’t wait to see what he comments on this post.

A New Year, A New Book

A new project to get my year off to a good start.

2013 was the first year since 1991 that I did not publish a new book.

There are several of reasons for this, none of which I want to get into here. That would make interesting fodder for a future blog post. Don’t worry; I won’t leave you hanging for long.

But it isn’t as if I haven’t been writing — I have been. In addition to this blog, which I’ve tended to quite faithfully since I started it in October 2003, I’ve been working on another book project since late 2012, when I found myself with an outrageous personal story to tell. Unfortunately, I’ve had to put that project aside; I hope to finish it when I know the ending.

Papillon HelicopterToday, however, I started work on the book I’ve been thinking about for the past month or so. Tentatively titled Flying the Canyon: My Season as a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour Pilot, this book will share my experiences from one of the most interesting summers of my life.

Here, I’ll let the book’s draft introduction tell you more:

In the summer of 2004, I realized one of my dreams: I became a helicopter tour pilot at the Grand Canyon.

I was 42 when I got the job and I worked with a bunch of young people — mostly men — some of whom were young enough to be my kids. I met the challenges of working in a sometimes difficult but usually breathtakingly beautiful flying environment, dealing with the personalities of co-workers and management, and trying to please passengers from all over the world. The work was rewarding, frustrating, and enlightening. The flying experience was something I think every helicopter pilot should have.

I also had a very odd experience on one of my flights — an experience that would leave the lingering scar of PTSD on me for many years to come.

I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but by the end of the summer, the novelty had worn off. Friction inside the company made the job less pleasant than it had been. I realized that I was a square peg in a round hole. My real work as a freelance writer was being neglected and my editors were beginning to lose their patience. I was sad to leave, but it was time.

This book is the story of my season at the Grand Canyon. It begins before the beginning by sharing the stories of when I decided I wanted to learn how to fly and the things that I did to gain the skills I’d need to be a tour pilot. It then goes on to tell about my experiences as a pilot at the Canyon — including the unusual occurrence on June 10, 2004 — and my direct interactions with fellow pilots, management, and passengers. Finally, it shares how my feelings about being a Canyon tour pilot changed as the summer came to a close and the events that affected my decision to leave.

Because I’d blogged many of my experiences soon after they happened, much of what I share in these pages is rich with details. But rather than just restate my blog posts, I’ve filled in the gaps between them with the behind-the-scenes stories that I couldn’t make public at the time.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a helicopter tour pilot at the Grand Canyon? Here’s what it was like for me.

As I write, I’ll be pulling a lot of my blog posts about those days offline, probably for good. In a way, my blog has acted as a temporary archive for these stories. Once the book is complete and published, the book will be the permanent archive. I hope to do this with much of the contents of my blog.

Captain MariaToday, I churned out over 4,000 words, completing the introduction (which I just shared here), a Prologue, and Chapter 1, which briefly covers my experiences learning to fly and getting my commercial pilot rating. My goal is to have the entire book finished by month-end — a goal I know I can reach if I can stay focused on my work. (With little else do do this winter, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to find time!)

I’ve toyed with the idea of shopping it around to a mainstream publishing house but will likely self-publish under the Flying M Productions “Real-Life Flying” imprint. The book will be available in print and as an ebook in Kindle, Nook, and iBooks formats. I had quite a bit of success with one of my three self-publishing projects back in 2012, so I’m pretty confident I’ll meet or beat that success with this book.

Of course, since I need to work on the book each morning, that might cut into my blogging time. So expect to see fewer posts here over the next month or so as I write, edit, lay out, and publish this book. More information on where to buy it will be available before month-end.

Comments? You know where to put them!

Apple iBookstore: Understanding Payment Requirements

It’s a royalty agreement, folks.

The other day, I received an unusual email on my Flying M Productions email account. Flying M Productions is my little publishing company, the one I use to publish Maria’s Guides and other books. Its website isn’t much to look at; just a lot of promotional material for the items it publishes and sells. There’s no support for any book there; all support for Maria’s Guides can be found on the Maria’s Guides website.

The Question

Here’s the message, in its entirety; I’ve only omitted the sender name:

I am looking for understanding of this financial requirement for ibooks author:
(Apple does not pay partners until they meet payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory. You should consider this before applying to work directly with Apple as you may receive payments faster by working with an Apple-approved aggregator.)
Apple was not able to explain this and said I had to contact you.
Please explain.

This is obviously a lie — or a big misunderstanding — I seriously doubt whether Apple even knows of the existence of Flying M Productions — especially since I’ve been waiting over a month for it to approve two titles for the iBookstore. The idea that Apple would refer someone to me about one of their policies is truly laughable. The idea that a tiny publisher with just four titles in 20 years would provide support for the most valuable company in the world is a real joke.

And that explains why I didn’t reply.

What’s This About?

But I wanted to know what she was talking about so I did a little search. I wanted to see whether the text she’d included in parentheses was actually present in any Apple agreement. I picked “payment requirements” and “Apple-approved aggregator” as my search phrases.

First I searched the most recent version of the 37-page Ebook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement that I’m required to sign to create books for sale on the iBookstore. No joy.

Then I searched the license agreement for the current version of iBooks Author. No joy.

Then I went online, and followed a bunch of links on the Apple and iTunesConnect websites. I eventually wound up on the requirements page for the Paid Books Account. And there, in the third bullet under the heading “Financial Requirements,” was the full text she’d put in parentheses in her email message.

Apple’s Stand on This

Before I go on, you need to understand two things:

  • Apple does not want everyone capable of typing a sentence and turning it into an epub or iBooks Author document to publish on the iBookstore. Think I’m kidding? Why else would they require ISBNs for every title sold on the iBookstore? That’s just another hurdle for authors/publishers to jump. Why does Apple take this stand? Because Apple (1) doesn’t want to publish crap and (2) doesn’t want to hold the hands of hundreds or thousands of author/publisher wannabes to walk them through the publication process.
  • “Apple-approved aggregators” exist primarily as a support mechanism for Apple. If an author/publisher is too clueless to publish on the iBookstore, Apple wants a way to graciously hand them off to someone else. Thus, they approve aggregators who apparently don’t mind holding hands with clueless authors/publishers in exchange for a fee.

The Requirements page linked to above is another hurdle for authors/publisher to jump. It lists requirements to further weed out the folks they don’t want to deal with. Hell, you have to have a relatively new Mac to publish on the iBookstore — if that doesn’t weed out a bunch of people, nothing will.

What are the Payment Requirements?

But what the person who contacted Flying M Productions was concerned with was the “payment requirements.” Of all the requirements, this is the least onerous. All this means is that Apple won’t pay royalties until you’ve reached certain minimum sales amounts. Why? Well, Apple doesn’t want to deal with thousands of tiny payments every month. Instead, it holds your royalties on account until you’ve earned enough for them to make it worthwhile to pay.

This, by the way, is common. Google has always done this with Adsense. Amazon.com does it for the Kindle Direct Publishing program.

While this may seem to suggest that you need to reach a threshold for each individual territory to get payment for that territory, that’s not what I’m seeing. In fact, I was just paid today for February’s sales. My royalty earnings on sales in each of six territories ranged from a low of $38.73 to a high of $659.40, and I was paid for the total amount earned.

Paragraph 5(c) of the Ebook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement states (in part):

After deducting Apple’s commission from eBook Proceeds, Apple shall either remit to Publisher, or issue a credit in Publisher’s favor, subject to Apple’s standard business practices, including minimum monthly remittance amount thresholds determined by Apple (e.g., $150), the remaining balance by electronic funds transfer (“EFT”) no later than forty-five (45) days following the close of the previous monthly sales period.

This tells me that you need to earn a certain amount of royalties before Apple will pay you and they’re required to pay within 45 days of the close of the period. That’s why I didn’t get my February earnings until April 5 — which is still a hell of a lot better than I get from my traditional print publisher contracts.

The $150 is an example. In looking at my past statements, for periods when I only had one title listed in the iBookstore, I was paid $28 one month and $31 another. Clearly Apple is not waiting for me to earn $150 before it pays me.

How Apple-Approved Aggregators Fit In

In re-reading this Requirements page, I’m thinking that Apple is using this scary sounding “requirement” as a way to encourage authors/publishers to use aggregators. But will aggregators pay more quickly? I can’t see how. Unless Apple uses different thresholds for different publishers? Or aggregators are willing to make payments for very small amounts? Or aggregators are willing to pay before the 45-day period has gone by?

Either way, it’s nothing to get all hot and bothered about.

But I do agree with Apple: if you can’t meet their requirements, use an aggregator.