Monday, May 14, 2018

Amazon Kindle Unlimited Encourages Piracy, And This Is How To Fix It

When I wrote about #cockygate making some new authors nervous about titling their books yesterday, I mentioned that the barriers put up by Amazon and other big book companies have led to widespread piracy.

This led to some questions - and accusations. Answering the latter first, I'm not anti-Amazon, anti-American etc etc. I was describing the situation as I see it.

I forgot that many people don't travel and have little idea of life outside the US/UK/EU. 

So here goes...

We don't have a national library system; we're a developing nation. We do have bookshops.

Best Sellers from MPH, one of Malaysia's biggest bookshops
An average paperback price is RM45-RM70, which is US$12-US$18.

Note: a latte in Starbucks/CoffeeBean costs RM12 or US$3 so for us, books are a luxury. Not everyone can afford them.

We see Amazon Kindle offers 1,400,000 books for RM40 or $10. They advertise everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, blogs are constantly harping on how wonderful KU is. It's also in newspapers and on television talk shows, dramas and news channels.

The message: KU is glorious.

We look at all the pretty toys, and we want them.

💕💕
💕💕
 😍😍😍

Problem: many of the best sellers listed on Amazon aren’t sold in shops here. And almost none of the KU books are available.

So we go to Amazon.

We say, "KU is awesome! Sign me up!"
They say, "KU is only available in 15 countries. You're not on our list."

Fact: Amazon KU is available in 15 countries, meaning 180 countries get to look but not touch.



We say, "I have a credit card, verified by Visa."
They say, "Nice. Now, get lost."
We say, "I can transfer the money. In Dollars."
They say, "No."
We say, "I've been an Amazon customer since 1996. I buy paperbacks from you. I send gifts to my friends in the US and UK and Spain."
They say, "Thank you for shopping with us!"

So we get angry.  We feel slighted, discriminated against, dissed.

And we keep seeing the shiny toys and we're told we're not allowed to play.

So when a shop opens up in the mall and offers us the top 200 best sellers at once, for half the price of a latte in Starbuck/CoffeeBean, we say, "Why not? We tried and they told us to f* off. So we'll f* them. Gimme, gimme, gimme!" 

We don't care that the shop is owned by an organised crime syndicate because we're angry.

We don't consider that handing over tonnes of cash to criminals is a bad idea because we're getting our revenge.

So after a decade or more of raking in oodles of cash from ordinary people who'd normally never consort with criminals, the syndicates are so damn rich that they can bribe police, immigration officials, and god knows who else. Crime rockets.

Also, we've lost a little of ourselves because piracy has become normalised.

We know what's right, we want to do right, but we're locked out.

So, want to deal a death blow to piracy and organised crime?
Take our money.

It really is that simple.

Note: Barnes&Noble, iTunes, and other shops won't talk to us, either. Kobo will but the last two books I bought from them didn't show up in my reader, and they don't answer customer service email. As for Smashwords, ask me about them some other time. 

Some book piracy facts
The Guardian thinks 4m or 17% of all online ebooks are pirated. Article here.
Russia puts book piracy at 25-30% - and people don't even realise they're buying illegal books! Article here. 
Africa has a $1 billion dollar publishing industry, and it suffers hugely because of normalised piracy. Article here.

And now, as I said yesterday, I have a foothold left in Europe so I'm bloody lucky to be let into KU. So, I leave you with the usual SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION! 
(Note: if you're locked out, and you want to read my books, drop me a note, okay?)


 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

After #Cockygate, do you need to trademark/copyright your book titles?

This post is written for young authors, or new authors living in non-kindle countries, who are worried about #cockygate leaving them open to lawsuits and being blocked by American sales platforms like Amazon.  Also, there are tips on creating a unique title.

What is #CockyGate?

Faleena Hopkins who sells novels on Amazon is making lots of claims, including that she alone has the right to use the word 'cocky' in a book title. She's been bullying authors, threatening to sue them, and telling Amazon that her rights have been infringed.

For a short time, authors who had books with the word COCKY in the title on Amazon had their books taken down. Also, because Amazon uses a lot of automated tools, readers who'd used the word in totally unrelated book reviews also found their opinions censored.

Although Faleena is sticking to her guns and making more and more wild claims, Amazon has put the banned books back up, and is restoring the reviews. She's also being challenged legally. (More about that below)

Now, if you're thinking that you have to register your book titles, or that you need to hire a lawyer before you can publish your romance novel, don't worry. You don't need to panic, and you don't need to shelve your dream of becoming a romance author.

Some Industry Perspective
Romance publishing is worth some $1 billion a year in the USA alone. That's lots of lovely $$$ and so everyone is after a slice. While most people are nice, there are a few Faleenas out there.

For those of us who don't live in the US/UK/EU, getting our books out is particularly difficult because Amazon and the other big companies set up barriers that limit our participation severely.

These barriers have had some sad consequences, including the normalisation of piracy in many of our communities. Also, I suspect it has had a knock-on effect on our everyday safety, with pirated goods enriching organised crime gangs.

Disclosure: I'm extremely fortune in having a European base (for now) that lets me get around some of those barriers.

Publishing After CockyGate
I'm not a lawyer, but I've been a full-time writer and columnist for over 20 years. Basically, you need to consider these points:

It's nearly impossible to secure the rights to a single common word. If anyone could get the rights to use a single word, you can bet your boots that some crafty bugger would have claimed the words, King, Queen, billionaire, love etc etc and then demanded tonnes of $$$ from anyone who used those words.

Under very special circumstances, you can get some limited rights to a word and challenge people for using it. For example, you can use the word apple anywhere you want, but if you tried to make Apple computer products, you'd be in hot water. (more on this further below)

Book titles are not necessarily unique. Romance publishing is as old as the hills, and as there are zillions of titles, there's going to be lots of overlap.  It took me a few seconds to find four books called The Lost Heir and there are probably tonnes more.


That's perfectly okay because readers aren't daft. They look at the cover, the author and they read the blurb before they buy.

You'll never understand all the laws. When it comes to publishing, every country has it's own take on what's allowed and what's not. Some countries don't give a damn what happens in our industry, and others are super hot on what you can and can't do.

Companies like Amazon are so huge, that they make their own rules. These are often just as contradictory and confusing as national laws.

You can consult lawyers, but finding one in your country that knows the ins and outs of our niche market will be a challenge. If you're living in a society that's very litigious, then work with an established publishing house.

If you are intending to make your career as an international romance author, this is the rule of thumb that will work for you no matter where you publish: Intentional misleading is a no-no.

If you write a book called The Lost Heir, you're going to have a unique cover and your own name, right? So that's fine. Go ahead and publish. But if you pinch GA Henry's cover and call yourself GA Henry and pretend that you are s/he, that's a different story.

Keep it honest and you'll probably be okay.

Tips For Creating A Unique Title
Until recently, I didn't think too much about the uniqueness of my titles. (That's the thing about publishing, it's a lifelong learning curve!)

#1 Either have a longer title, or create a series to set your book apart. I like short titles because they're easy to remember. However, it means they're more likely to be less than unique.

I lucked out when I wrote the first AJ Adams, The Bonus, because it was unique. Since then, I see Alice Lingard has also used it. It's not going to confuse anyone, but I think it helps that I have a series listed, The Zeta Cartel Novels.

#2 When you have your title, search for similar books. I used to search Amazon but that isn't the smartest thing to do. For one thing, they hide titles from their search results. For another, they don't list books that are no longer in print.

That's how I didn't discover there's another Prydain series published in the 1960s until after I'd published Beast, The Beast and the Sibyl, and Fletcher! Now I search Amazon and Goodreads to see how unique my brilliant title ideas are.


#3 Lean In.  If you discover your title is overused or you think there will be some confusion, ask fellow romance authors for opinions. The community is generally speaking supportive and people like Faleena are very rare indeed. So lean in when you need to.

Learn From CockyGate
I'm learning a lot from this #ByeFaleena train wreck, and if you're planning on working in the industry, you should read up.

For an excellent overview of the drama, check out Jenny Trout's post, Don’t Do This, Ever: Faleena Hopkins Cocks The Whole Entire Fuck Up and check out Courtney!!! Milan on Twitter.

For a short and simple overview in text of how US law works when it comes to trademarks for book titles, read this post by Mark Knight, a US based Intellectual Property lawyer and author.

If you have video, then you should definitely watch this interview with Kevin Kneupper, another US Intellectual Property lawyer who explains why this is such a legal tangle, and how Amazon and other companies tend to react over issues like this. Kevin wrote the challenge to Faleena, so he's a hero in the community :-)

I hope this helps. PM me on Facebook if you have questions, and I'll do my best to answer - or at least send you a link or two.

You might also hit Twitter and look for the hashtags #CockyGate and #ByeFaleena. You can find me on Twitter here, but please be patient with me because my Twitter activity has been limited to lurking rather than posting. I'm learning the ins and outs of posting there as we speak.

And now, I leave you with some SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION!


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Am I spying on you?


Have you heard of this new GDPR thing coming out of the European Union? The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is supposed to give EU people control over their personal data.

Rumours are that it will have a huge impact on newsletters, so some authors are worried. I have to say, I’m not. And not just because I live in Malaysia.

The rules are written in legalese and I find them incomprehensible. However, from the very little I see, I think they are meant to force companies to give people what they sign up for and not muck them about.

What they don’t want:
o       You signing up for a newsletter about soap and being sent stuff about cars and loans.
o       You being faced with pre-ticked boxes that commit you automatically to pesky 'special offers' and other dodgy extras.
o       You signing up and having your data given away or shared with God knows who.

I don’t do that.  

If you're reading this, I have no clue who you are. Blogger does tell me how many people view this post and what country they are from. That's it.

You see that Follow By Email box on the top right? If you pop your email into that, blogger sends you a note every time I write a new post. 

When you do that, most blogs will show your blogger link to the sidebar. People only see your blog or your public profile. Learn how to manage that, here.

I don't show your link in the sidebar, because I think you should be private. I can if I want click through some stuff in the background and then I see your name and your blogger photo - but I don't bother.

If you want to get special offers nobody else gets, you have to sign up for my newsletter. This is what happens:

You Double Opt In To Protect You
When you sign up, you get an automated email asking you to confirm it really was you doing the typing.

Why do I do this? Because there are abusive individuals out there who harass others by signing them up for hundreds or thousands of newsletters. My double confirmation is to prevent some nut from hassling you.

I Don’t Collect Extra Information
When you sign up for my newsletter, you tell me your name and email address.  I don’t know anything else about you. Also, you can choose not to tell me your name, and just give me your email address.

MailChimp tells me if you open my newsletters all the time or just sometimes but I don’t look.

I Don’t Share Your Information - Ever
I write to you once in a blue moon about my books, and that’s basically it. I don’t share your email address with anyone, ever.

Actually, it’s a bit more than that. You see, your name and email are guarded by MailChimp. I can get a list if I want, but actually, I don’t even look.

The only time I know you get my newsletter is when you hit Reply and speak to me privately over email.

Your Privacy Matters
I have this approach because I hate it when companies bugger me about.  Like last month I discovered Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airlines have secretly taken the super personal private data I gave them to book airline tickets, and sold/shared it with their marketing partners.

As a result, I was inundated on my birthday by email and notices. I’m steaming angry about this because keeping my birth date safe is an integral part of preventing ID fraud.

Hopefully they’ll get hit by the GDPR but I doubt it. Big companies never stick to the rules.

Also, I once signed up for an ARC and found the author was signing me up to over 20 of her friends’ newsletters. My email box was jammed for months with email from people I’d never even heard of.  

So I take the approach that if I hate it, you will too.

Unsubscribing Is Easy
If you change your email address, or GASP, get bored with me, each newsletter comes with an unsubscribe button.

If you hit it, I get a notice that says, “X left your mailing list”. This sends me into a tailspin of doubt and despair but it won’t kill me. Probably :-)

I don’t mess about with asking you to change your mind; you want out, that’s your right. 

If you have questions, email me privately by hitting Reply.

Anyway, that’s all from me. I’ll let you know when I have the new book set up. In the meantime, do pop your email into the Follow This Blog box or come and see me on my personal timeline on Facebook.

Also, before I go, I want to say THANK YOU! You’ve all been super amazing with your support and I really appreciate it. Without you, I would not be writing.  

So muahs and see you all in 2 weeks or so.

Hugs,
Ellen aka AJ




Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Life in Malaysia: When Bees Attack

Seeing we were talking about life in Malaysia, and how different it is from my home in Spain, Scotland and Holland (yes, my family is a bit mixed up) I thought you'd like to hear about my bee problem and a very remarkable man called Saiful.

As I said last time, we live in Subang Jaya, a posh neighbourhood just outside of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia.

People here love living in condos. This is the view when I look up the street.




Me, I like to be a bit more private, so we live in a house. That red car is mine, and the truck is Sam's our neighbour.



As you can see, our home is very private, thanks to our tree.

Many people here cut down their trees and cement over everything. They don't like 'mess'. Me, I love the tree because it's home to lots of wildlife.

For example, we have tree shrews, called tupai in Malay.



These little creatures act a lot like squirrels. They run around the tree, shoving each other off branches as they quarrel over seeds. They also raid the cat biscuit bowl that belongs to the kitchen cats, the strays who live in the back lane.



This intrepid fellow came inside to steal, got caught in our bathroom and had to be escorted off the premises.



Luckily for them, our cats and the strays completely ignore them.

Our tree also attracts bats, and while they swoop through the living room on some nights, I've never been able to capture it on camera.

And we have birds. Loads of them. This one built a nest off our wall, which promptly collapsed when the monsoon rain hit. However, he was luckier next time round when he set up in our big tree.



We get all of this wildlife because we live almost on the equator. It's a balmy 34C/94F all year round and as we're tropical, we have tonnes of rainforest.

We also get some amazing bugs. Two years ago, we had termites. That took some effort to deal with and one of our neighbours actually lost a part of his house.

For us, the big problem was bees. They decided that our roof was the perfect place to build a hive.

In Europe, you'd call the council and they'd come and get the bees for you. Everyone back there is super protective of bees.

Here in Malaysia, we have loads of them and they're considered a pest. When I called our council, they were baffled. "Just set them on fire," the lady said. "We'll send the bomba.  (fire brigade)"

I called friends in the national wildlife department, the zoo, and even found the national bee keeper association, and got nothing. Zip, zero, zilch.

I tried lighting incense under the nest, hoping to drive them away. They liked the perfumed smoke. 

At this point, we had several hundred bees flying into the house every morning and evening. I got stung a couple of times, and so something had to be done. In short, the bomba came and set fire to the nest. While I was totally impressed by their bravery, it was sad.



The bees just came back and rebuilt. I went through all the motions again, and still couldn't find a proper way to deal with them. When my neighbour said she was fighting them off in the morning, I called Rentokill. That was a sad day.

Anyway, the bees came back again. And as they swarmed in the roof again, I got lucky. A totally random old blog post introduced me to Saiful Hizam, who runs Carambola Bee Farm. I emailed him, and the man called me back immediately.

It turns out they were wild tropical honey bees, and as that's Saiful's business, he said he'd like to have them. talk about happy!

Saiful lifted up some roof tiles and wafted some smoke into the gap, quieting them. And then he leaned in and picked out the queen. He put her in a box, set the box on the roof by the gap, and then we had a cup of tea while the hive packed up and got into the box with their leader.

This was the nest. It was about two shoe boxes in size.
 
The bees are crowding into the box, keen to be with their queen.

Honey!

The whole thing took about an hour, and then Saiful closed the box up and toted the hive off to his farm.

Happily ever after, right? The thing is, the Saifuls of this world are few and far between.

Saiful is a walking encyclopedia about everything bee. He produces honey, goes trapping wild bees in the rainforest - it's absolutely fascinating. He's also doing bee sting therapy, which is not my cup of tea but I'm sure it's huge with the alternative crowd. (Please be super careful, and consult with your family doctor before you do anything like this.)

This is him, Saiful, the bee man from Carambola Bee Farm.



If I were back home in Spain, my local council would have him on speed dial. Or at least, they'd look up their contact list and find him for me.

In Malaysia, information is very hard to find. Councils, police stations, and services you'd think would be connected over super efficient networks, just aren't. You have to be jacked in to the local network to get things done.  It makes life very interesting, and I just love living here. However, it can also be infuriating, sad, and wasteful.

Anyway, should you be interested in bees, here's how to find Saiful.

Carambola Bee Farm No. 8-2 Jalan Wangsa Delima 11. D'wangsa, Wangsa Melawati 53300 Kuala Lumpur. Also, please visit him on his facebook page and check out his blog.

Also, if you are a bee wrangler in Malaysia, do let me know your name, your contact number and where you are. Then when people ask me for help, I can send them your way. You can find me here on Facebook. Or you can leave a note with your web site address in the comments below.

Also, please, please, please tell someone about my books.




The Zeta Cartel series

The Prydain series


Hugs and talk soon! PS If you want to be sure to catch every post, drop your email in the follow box, top right of this page.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Life In Malaysia: My Neighbourhood


I've been in Malaysia for more than 20 years so I don't really think about how different life is here compared to the West. However, when Stu, a good friend of ours, died a few weeks ago, I realised that visualising those differences can be quite difficult. 

So over the next few weeks I'll write a few posts about daily life in Subang Jaya, Selangor.  It's partly so that our friend's family back in Europe have a better idea of what he was seeing every day, and partly for those of you who say to me, "You live WHERE? Wow, so what's that like?"

So here goes!

I live in Subang Jaya, a suburban area just outside Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. This is my street. My house is hidden under that massive tree.



We are security obsessed.  You have to be vetted and approved at a guard house to get into our housing area.


And if you live in a condo, you have an extra layer of security. This is the guard house at the condo at the end of my street.


The neighbourhood next to ours, SS14, has installed huge metal gates blocking the public road as well as a guard house.

I have no idea if this is legal but it's been that way for years. It certainly makes driving very difficult. You have to know where you're going, and what streets have been blocked off, or you get very lost.


If you're European and used to walking, you'll want to know that in Malaysia we tend to drive. 

First, Malaysia lies almost on the equator so it's pretty hot all day round. By 9AM it's about 34C/93F. It's also super humid, so if you walk more than a kilometer, you'll be very sticky and uncomfortable.

Also, even if you want to, it's not easy to go about on foot.  Apart from all the blocked roads, there are many areas that don't have pavements.

Our neighbourhood is quite rich. Even so, these are the pavements just outside my street - and just outside my mate Stu's condo.


Once you get to the shops, there are pedestrian areas. However, it's not like Europe. Every shop has a different frontage. So you get steps up, steps down, big tiles, little tiles, slippy tiles, grippy tiles. 

These shots were taken outside our favourite fruit shop, pub and 7-11. 

If you look up, there's a chance you fall flat on your face. Mind you, there's also the open drains.


Because we're tropical, we get massive downpours. It's like standing under a heavy duty waterfall. So we have huge open 'storm drains' that carry away the rainwater.

They're great but if like our mate Alan you slip, you may end up falling down a four foot deep open hole like this one. Ouch!



So in the mornings I drive rather than walk to our local market. (We have supermarkets in shopping malls but like most local people, I prefer to buy super fresh early in the morning.) 

This is our market. 

That fence is new. It was put up a month or so ago. I thought crime had gone down but the gossip at the market is that we've had some increases in snatch thieving. This fencing is to stop people from running in and out too easily.


The early morning market (called a 'wet market') starts around 7AM when it's still dark in tropical Malaysia. It finishes around 9AM because by then the sun is up and it's too hot to have stuff lying around.

This is the fruit and veggy lane.


In Kuching, Malacca and Kajang, the towns we lived before, we had live chickens at the market. You'd point at the one you wanted, go buy your fruit, and then come back to collect your dinner. 

(Yes, lots of Western people become vegetarian when they arrive here!)

Subang Jaya is posh so our meat is slaughtered elsewhere. These guys are my favourite chicken butchers. I've been their customer for fifteen years.


 As some Malaysians are muslim, the pork section is set aside in the wet market. As you can see, it's hot already at 7Am so some vendors are topless.



This is Stephen, my favourite pork butcher. I was his mum's customer until she passed away a few years ago. His dad is usually here too, but today he'd nipped out for a minute.


As it's 34C/94F most of the day, buying meat at the market is an early morning thing. When it comes to buying beef and mutton or lamb, we tend to go to cold stores, importers who have frozen goods. These are usually in industrial estates. 

This is our local industrial estate, SS13 Subang Jaya.


It can be quite hard to tell what's what in an industrial estate, so you find out where to go by word of mouth. You would drive past my favourite cold storage, Mr Ravi's, and not know what you're looking at.


You buy frozen meat by the lump (typically several kilos) and it's sliced or diced any way you like by the gentleman who runs the bandsaw. 

My mum who lives in health and safety conscious Europe finds this absolutely terrifying but what I see is a lovely clean man - wearing an apron for God's sake!  I mean, how posh can you get? 

Again, I've been shopping here for fifteen years. It's one of my favourite places.



And finally, after we've done our marketing, we go for breakfast. 

Some people stop at a roadside stall and buy packets of special fried rice or tofu.



I tend to go here, to Kwai Sun, my favourite hawker centre. This is essentially a collection of stalls, each selling a specialty dish.  Those buckets outside are filled with food, and also water for washing dishes.


My fave is the dim sum, little steamed Chinese dumplings. My mate Stu used to buy the big steamed buns, filled with pork and onion. 



It doesn't look like much, especially when you see how people here do the dishes: in the street.



But it tastes amazing. 

Anyway, this is a glimpse of how we live. I'll take a few shots of the other side of Malaysia, the air conditioned malls, next week. 

I hope you found it interesting.

And to finish, here's a picture of Swooner, our youngest cat. 

Because he's handsome.