Taylor Swift Wants to Control Her Own Destiny--And Why Not

You probably know Taylor Swift from her music. Maybe you even heard her public outrage about not owning her music and not having a say in who controls her catalog (of songs). Such outrage is easy to understand and agree with. That said, the vast majority of us working creatives don’t own the rights to our work, nor do we control who owns our work or what happens to our work in the future.

Taylor has been extremely fortunate to have found success, to have found labels willing to back her work, and even to get ownership of her newest work. Being an A-list music star helps tremendously. Meanwhile millions of creatives have never had full ownership, nor control over who does.

Millions of creatives have never had labels lining up to back them like the fortunate few, Taylor included. If A-listers didn’t need labels, they wouldn’t go to labels and labels wouldn’t exist. There’s a fine line to cut between control, ownership and labels. It’s a catch-22, an evil necessity, an ouroboros—the snake that eats its own tale.

The music industry though has been on the bleeding edge of changing the rules, allowing creatives to maintain more ownership and control—if not complete ownership and control. The music industry celebrates those who maintain ownership and control of their own work. The music industry celebrates small labels. The music industry celebrates independent artists. Together, they are indies—and there’s a whole world out there celebrating indie music.

In stark contrast, in the world of publishing, independents are derided, relegated to second class, trotted upon. There is intolerance—even hate—directed at independents. Those who independently publish are derided as frauds, failures, fakes, largely by those who fear the slipping away of the status quo. This despite nearly two decades of revolution in independent publishing.

It’s no secret that historically creatives get the short end of the stick. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my first publisher (Macmillan) ripped me off, nor of the fact that without those early contracts I might not have gone on to sell millions and millions of books. I have both thanked Macmillan for the opportunity and condemned Macmillan for taking advantage of me and countless of others. Substandard royalties, work-for-hire contracts that paid a pittance, more. Whatever they could get away with really.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my publisher of 20 years (Microsoft) was more generous than others in the industry when it came to contracts, though I feel my work was still misused and also that there was tremendous usage of my work that I was never compensated for, including worldwide usage within and by Microsoft as well as third parties with relationships with Microsoft. I am, of course, eternally grateful to Microsoft and especially those that I worked with. Those who oversaw the publishing of my work did the best they could to keep the hungry machine from swallowing it and they ensured a graceful exit when the publishing world changed so dramatically that there was no longer a place for Microsoft Press within Microsoft Corporation.

Over 20 years, my work also was used in thousands of training courses (outside of Microsoft’s control and consent) that instructed millions of students around the world for which I was never paid. These students paid hundreds to thousands of dollars for short—3-5-7-day—training courses, amounting to billions of dollars of instructional training that I didn’t receive a single cent for. It makes the millions I was shortchanged by publishers over the years seem like a drop in the proverbial bucket—a single tear in a lake of tears.

The industry finds ways to further suck the marrow from your bones, to squeeze and wring out your blood. There are managers, agents, publicists to pay, not to mention accountants, others and the IRS, leaving the creative with pennies on the dollar. Point of fact, somewhere along the way, I figured out that over a 20-year period, after everyone got paid, I got about .03 on the dollar while my publishers collectively made well over $100,000,000 off my work (and retailers who sold my work made even more).

Thus, it both alarms and astounds me, that there continues to be so much hate and intolerance in the publishing community for authors who decide to go independent, who decide to self-publish, who decide to embrace new technologies and new means of getting their creations to the world. It boggles the mind that there are still so many fighting tooth and nail to prevent, deter and destroy those who simply want what every working creative should want. To own and control our own work, our own future.

Thanks for reading, I’ve written much about this and other related issues. You’ll find articles at Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/williamstanek/), in my personal blogs (http://robertstanek.blogspot.com/ and http://williamstanek.blogspot.com), at Go Indie (http://readindies.blogspot.com/) and on my websites (http://www.williamrstanek.com and http://www.robert-stanek.com/). You’ll find posts about related problems going back to 2003 here @ http://www.robertstanek.com/rsblog.htm. I do of course write as William Stanek, Robert Stanek, William R. Stanek and William Robert Stanek. I am of course the author of over 200 full-length works of fiction and nonfiction, having been a successful published author since 1995.


A Tribute to William Robert Stanek, an American Author Who Should Be on Everyone’s Must Read List

My name is Jennifer Blake. This guest post is in honor of William Robert Stanek, an author recently named “an American author who should be on everyone’s must read list.” A group of us have been wanting to guest post here in honor of Robert for such a long time, and I jumped at the opportunity to pay tribute to someone I owe so much to. When no one else would publish my work, Robert took me under his wing and helped me publish my first book, Baby Animals on Safari.

Baby Animals on Safari had been turned down by every publisher on the planet, well practically every one, at least that’s how it seemed to me as the rejection letters kept coming year after year after year. As a single mom who works in special needs classrooms, I’ve been writing stories for children since grad school. I wasn’t able to find a publisher or anyone who believed in my work until Robert.

To shorten a long story, Baby Animals on Safari was published four years ago and it changed my life. Though Baby Animals on Safari had modest success in stores, it was a massive success in libraries, where it sold thousands and thousands of copies worldwide and transformed me overnight from a complete unknown into a popular in-demand author. With Robert’s help, I’ve even released a sequel called what else, Baby Animals on Safari 2.

Robert Stanek was fresh off a recent Lifetime Achievement nomination for distinguished accomplishments in American letters when a group of libraries took notice and started buying up his work for their patrons, having named him “an American author who should be on everyone’s must read list.”

I don’t disagree. The Audio Book Store called Robert Stanek “one of its most featured and respected Kids & Young Adults, K-12 Educators and Kids authors.” Parenting Magazine in a listening partnership with Audible.com named his Bugville Critters, recommended reading. Follett Early Learning said his wonderful Bugville Critters stories addressed all major issues of growing up, while combining facts about the natural world with instructive and entertaining fiction.

To date, Robert has released 100 Bugville Critters books. These include magnificent learning books under the Bugville Learning umbrella, Bugville Jr. books for toddlers and preschoolers, and Bugville picture books for kids ages 4 to 8. With the 28 original Bugville books all featuring luscious 2-page spreads from original watercolors, it’s no wonder that over a million readers have devoured the books.

Of his Ruin Mist novels, which include The Kingdoms & the Elves of the Reaches and In the Service of Dragons book and are now enjoying their 15th anniversary, The Fantasy Guide said the work was very satisfying and that word of mouth had turned it into a bestseller. VOYA, the leading magazine for young adult librarians gushed even more saying that the books were “sure to attract fans of graphic novels and classic Tolkien alike.” With all the praise, it’s no wonder the Ruin Mist books were featured on Audible’s homepage for an entire summer in 2005, #1 bestsellers at Audible in Fiction, and on the Audible Children’s bestseller lists for 182 consecutive weeks.

Robert also has written bestselling thrillers and science fiction. His Scott Evers novels, which include The Pieces of the Puzzle and The Cards in the Deck, have also climbed the charts to become #1 bestselling fiction. Meanwhile, his “After the Machines” dystopian novels are some of the most gripping sci-fi I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Few other authors have written over 200 full-length feature works. Few other authors have been successful in so many genres.

Robert’s oeuvre doesn’t stop with fiction, however. In his day job, he’s an internationally acclaimed technology journalist writing for Macmillan, Microsoft Press, Pearson, O’Reilly, and other leading publishers under the name William R. Stanek. His William R. Stanek books include over a hundred heavy hitting titles like Windows Server 2016: IT Pro Library, a multi-book set with over 500,000 words, and the equally impressive Exchange Server 2016: IT Pro Library, with a mere 300,000 words. Oi!

Robert published these works independently. After being the #1 author at Microsoft Press for nearly twenty years, Robert says it was time to do things his own way.

Robert tells me his writing career began in 1986, the year he finished his first novel. In 1991, Robert won his first writing award, The George Washington Honor Medal. The winning work was an essay about his combat tours in the first Persian Gulf War, an essay that was later turned into a full-length memoir that has recently been re-released for the 20th anniversary of the war as Air War: The Incredible True Story of the Combat Flyers.

I’ve only met Robert a few times. Each time felt like an extraordinary opportunity, like I was walking with a giant among men. Not because Robert’s 6’ 2”, but because he himself is larger than life. The kind of person you feel honored and privileged to even be in the same room with. Yet, at the same time, he’s so self-deprecating and real.

It’s rare to meet someone who is so down to earth. Funny, sincere, caring, giving, passionate about the causes he supports. And if you know Robert, you know he’s passionate about many things, but especially causes related to peoples with disabilities, veterans, libraries, education and conservation.

That’s what I noticed most when talking to Robert. You don’t see the decorated soldier (yes, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross) who fought against the second Gulf war with raised fists or the guy who conquered the publishing world from his worn keyboard while wearing pajamas. You don’t hear those things in his words you expect from someone who’s achieved so much. You see instead a guy who’s trying like the rest of us to swim up river. You see a guy who deserves your wholehearted support. You see a guy whose works should be as widely read as any author today. There are certainly enough of his masterworks to choose from. Works that will move you, teach you, show you. Works that will make you think, deliver you to the brink, leave you breathless.

Read Robert’s work. Praise it where you can. Spread the good word. Tell others.

Jennifer Blake

Author of Baby Animals on Safari


Finding Success as a Writer and Becoming a Bestselling Author

I'm Robert Stanek and today I'm writing about finding success as a writer and becoming a bestseller. In 1995, I attended a writer’s conference on Maui, hosted at the swanky Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. I’d just signed my first contract with Macmillan after years of trying to break in to publishing as a writer. Unlike most other attendees, I didn’t stay at the Ritz-Carlton—the hotel wasn’t something I could afford at the time. On a military salary, with a wife and toddler accompanying me, the best I could afford was a $79 a night room a few miles away, and the only reason I could afford to get to Maui in the first place was because I was stationed on Oahu, where I worked at the hush-hush NSA facility Edward Snowden made famous.
a picture of robert stanek

As I wrote about in my post “How Betsy Mitchell, SheilaGilbert, Diana Gill, Beth Meacham, Jim Minz, Tom Doherty, and Other PublishingLegends Helped Launch My Writing Career” I’d previously received a number of encouraging responses to my debut novel, Keeper Martin’s Tale, and other works of fiction I’d written from Magic Lands to The Pieces of the Puzzle. It’d taken years to break in, but I’d finally managed it.

The conference was mostly about breaking in as a writer, with seminars on writing, getting agents, getting published and such. I felt a little like the cat who swallowed the canary, as I’d already managed to land a contract. It wasn’t something I’d say in the crowd I’d found myself in, many of whom were rather snobby and elitist, certain they were the best writer in the world and that their big break was just around the corner.

The conference went poorly and I ended up skipping big parts of it to spend time with my wife and son instead. Nonetheless, attendance taught me some valuable lessons, especially about how much I disliked snobby elitists. I also decided sitting around talking about writing for hours and hours was a colossal waste of time. Instead of talking about writing, I would instead just write.

And just write I did. My first book, Electronic Publishing Unleashed, was 1031 pages in print and I wrote 800 pages of it over a 4-month period while also working full-time in the military. The other 200 pages of the book were written by contributors, one of which was originally supposed to be the author of the book, but for one reason or another wasn’t able to produce what was required. Meanwhile, the acquisitions editor loved my work and kept expanding my role in the book until I was its author and the others were contributors.

Electronic Publishing Unleashed was published in September 1995 to great success and I signed a contract for a second book with Macmillan almost immediately. This book, Web Publishing Unleashed, was entirely my project from start to finish. The book was written to a tight schedule, and I wrote as much of it as I dared as quickly as I could: again 800 pages over a 4-month period. I hand selected the contributors to round out the content and the book was published in March 1996 to even bigger success than the first.

Meanwhile, I was at a crossroads in my military career. I’d earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees while in Hawaii and my commanders were recommending me for Officers Training School (OTS). As one of the most decorated soldiers in the unit and a frequently recognized top performer, I knew most of the top brass and they knew me. After OTS, I could have any job I wanted in the military. But then there was this writing thing.

You’d think my initial success in writing would make the answer an easy one. That second book was a blockbuster bestseller from the start. It was selling like snow cones during a heat wave. But the answer wasn’t an easy one. I’d written Electronic Publishing Unleashed as a work for hire, meaning I received no royalties, even though the book had over $2.5 million in sales. I’d written Web Publishing Unleashed as a royalty contract, but I had received a very low rate, even with an agent. How low? Less than 1/2 the industry standard rate, and then since I’d signed up with an agent, he was going to get 1/5th of that.

Worse, I wouldn't receive my first royalty check for some time. It takes months for royalty payments to make it to authors. Books are published, shipped to stores. Stores pay based on sales, typically in 90 days or so, and in 90 days or so after getting paid, publishers pay authors. Still, my publisher loved my work and was in the process of signing me to three new contracts for FrontPage UnleashedPeter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming and Web Publishing Unleashed Professional Reference Edition.

Thus, when I decided to leave the military in June 1996, I had no idea where I was going to go or even if I would actually ever get paid royalties. My wife, son and I ended up in a tiny apartment in Oregon. Still waiting for that first royalty payment and living off the dregs of advances, I wrote all three books in the apartment manager’s back room. The tiny apartment wasn’t big enough for writing, and my wife’s sister and her daughter had joined us in Oregon and moved in with us as well. Fortunately, the building manager graciously offered me the writing space, where I was cooped up 16 hours a day working to finish all those books.

How we ended up in Oregon? I'm not really sure myself. It is where Peter Norton was. Perhaps at the time I thought since I was writing Peter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming with Peter Norton he’d actually be working with me on the book. As it turned out, I never even got to meet Peter and his contribution to the book was nothing more than his name even though he received half the royalties. Peter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming was published in July 1996.

By this time, offers from other publishers were pouring in. One in particular that intrigued me was from PC Magazine. They were looking for a regular contributor to write technology articles about the Internet, the Web and related technologies. Exactly the space I worked in. I was up to my ears in books, but how could I or anyone else possibly turn down $1+ a word?! I took the offer and started writing regularly for the magazine.

After a few months in Oregon, the family and I moved on to Washington state, and the wait began anew for the first royalty check to reach me. However, I finally did have advances in hand for the three books I’d written. The publisher had made a special effort to get the payments to me and I’d also finalized two new contracts for FrontPage 97 Unleashed and Netscape ONE Developer’s Guide.

Those payments paid for a U-Haul and helped secure a larger apartment in Olympia, which was about 8 hours or so away from where we lived in Oregon. My wife’s sister and her daughter were still living with us, so we really needed the big space. While we were there, FrontPage Unleashed was published (September 1996) and I was already hard at work on the other books and writing for PC Magazine.

The new apartment was nice enough, but still not a home for my family, and still rather crowded with my wife's sister and her daughter living with my family. Nonetheless, we settled in and I worked. My writing space was in the master bedroom, so I had the difficult task of crawling out of bed to a chair a few feet away every morning where I wrote through the day and into the evening.

For months, the rapid succession of contracts, delays from the publisher, delays from my agents (I was with Studio B by this time) and other things had all been between me and ever getting paid my first royalty check for all the work I was doing. That check seemed some sort of myth by this time, so I was unsure if I'd ever receive it and rather certain I'd made a horrendous mistake by leaving the military.

Just about the time every cent we had ran out and our options were running out, a check finally arrived. The check was for the first royalty book I’d written, which had been published in March of that year. It was now September.

In the military, I barely made enough to get by. I’d finished college and earned my degrees only because my wife worked overtime to help pay the tuition. The check I was holding in my hand was two year’s military salary. I nearly fell over. It’d taken months to get to me, but there it was. Proof that I’d done something right.

To say that we celebrated that night is an understatement, but we weren't able to go out anywhere or do anything special. It takes days for a paper check to clear, especially when it's made out for a huge amount of money, and the one credit card we had was maxed out already. Still, we celebrated.

The next month, October, my wife’s sister and daughter moved out. With writing seeming like a sure thing for the future, my wife and I started looking for a house. We found one right away and by early November we moved in. It was our first house. We quickly made it a home.

There are a big surprise for us soon after, and just in time for Thanksgiving: another royalty check.

I was upstairs working in the office when my wife brought it to me. She’d opened the letter and from her expression I wasn’t quite sure whether it was extremely good news or extremely bad news.

At my hesitation, my wife said, It's good news, really good news.

And it was. I’d never seen that much money in my life, yet there it was on a check written out to me.

I was stunned, shocked.

My wife gave me a big kiss and wrap her arms around me. We stood like that for the longest time, just reveling in the moment. It was a measure of my success as a writer. A success as wild as any I ever imagined.

The books I had been working on were published shortly after. Web Publishing Unleashed Professional Reference Edition in December 1996, FrontPage 97 Unleashed in January 1997 and Netscape ONE Developer’s Guide in March 1997. Altogether, those early books had many millions in sales at retail, exceeding even the wildest of my wildest dreams.

In your own writing, dare to dream. You never know what might happen.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek


Amazon's Blackened Soul

To date, there are about a billion reviews at Amazon sites that don’t meet Amazon’s own criteria for acceptability. This represents about 3 out of every 5 reviews. Is it any wonder when Amazon’s own management and executive staff are allowed to break the rules when it suits them to target an author whose book wasn’t as flattering as Amazon hoped it would be. Yes, I’m talking about Brad Stone and The Everything Store, a book lambasted by Bezos’s own wife, Amazon executives, management and other employees in contradiction to Amazon’s own guidelines.

It’s no surprise that corruption is rampant at and within Amazon. Take for example what happened to my book Windows 10: The Personal Trainer, which was the first full-length Windows 10 book to market. Several individuals plagiarized the contents of the book, word for word in numerous places, entire passages and paragraphs, and even daring to take screenshots of my screenshots and use them in their texts. Subsequently they deluged my books Windows 10: The Personal Trainer and Windows 10: Fast Start with poor reviews while purchasing five star reviews by the dozens for their own books from Fiverr and other sites.

You might imagine that an author who’s been in publishing for 30 years, with hundreds of successful titles and nearly 10 million readers might be listened to, especially when he meticulously documents the plagiarism. You’d be wrong.

Complaints to Amazon documenting the plagiarism instance by instance across the entire texts resulted in my books—all William Stanek books—being targeted by Amazon, along with the accounts of loyal readers. Readers who simply had read and reviewed a handful of my books across the hundreds of titles I have available.

What happened to the plagiarizers? Nothing initially, yet any complaint I dared to lodge with Amazon about the plagiarism was met with immediate retaliation at all levels. Why? I had no idea, but it was déjà vu because a similar thing had happened to my fiction works, which is why I began to investigate who the authors of the books were.

It wasn’t difficult to discover that as before one of the books was written by a family member/associate of an Amazon employee. While I may have been naïve before to not know how to try to resolve such a situation, I wasn’t any longer. I quickly enlisted the help of someone with the ability to go over the head of those I could reach at Amazon.

We also pointed out to Amazon that my book had been available previously. Windows 10: The Personal Trainer is in fact an updated version of my book Windows 7: The Personal Trainer, which was itself published previously by Microsoft. I’m guessing that quickly put an end to the counter-claims of the plagiarists whose books were eventually removed from sale.

You might think that when someone steals another’s work and bases nearly their entire text on what they stole that they wouldn’t be able to republish such a text. You’d be wrong again. The book by the family member/associate of an Amazon employee was returned almost instantly to sale, and the other book followed a few months later.

Meanwhile, the print edition of Windows 10: The Personal Trainer was pulled from sale for nearly 2 weeks during the height of its success. No explanation, other than Amazon later admitting it was a mistake. A new deluge of poor reviews for Windows 10: The Personal Trainer and Windows 10 Fast Start followed.
When it was restored to sale, Windows 10: The Personal Trainer also disappeared from Amazon search results for Windows 10 books and didn't show up in other searches either. As no one was able to find the book, sales disappeared.
Did I dare say anything to Amazon? No, I did not because when the heart of a company is corrupted there’s no point.

Thanks for reading,

William Robert Stanek


1) Beyond issues of ethics and morality, the fundamental issue--among others--is that Amazon guidelines don’t allow anyone with a financial interest (either for or against) to review a product.
Persons associated with Amazon, and in particular employees, had a vested, financial interested in limiting the success of Stone’s book, reducing its potential impact on Amazon’s bottom line and controlling the message surrounding the book. None more so than executives, management staff and others holding stock or stock options in the company. Amazon guidelines do not allow any persons with a financial interest in a product (either for or against) to review a product, but that didn’t stop persons associated with the company from ensuring their messaging, damage control and spin was heard far and wide.
Stone’s book had the potential to cause both a significant hit to Amazon’s public image and an enormous impact on Amazon’s bottom line, especially in the days leading up to and following its publication. Without Amazon’s public spin and careful management of perception through reviews and other means, Stone’s book could have caused lasting, long-term damage to the company and its reputation, not to mention its CEO.
Whether the reviews are removed entirely or quietly continue to disappear, it’s important to remember this is a fight that’s already won. The damage control and message control have already been accomplished. 
Make no mistake that Amazon was in a precarious position in the timeframe surrounding the publication of The Everything Store. Amazon as a public company had never been consistently profitable in its nearly 20-year history (at the time), quite the contrary it had been a consistent money loser. A sway in public opinion could have derailed the Ponzi scheme of its unfettered access to capital markets.
The difference between Amazon then and Amazon now is hundreds of billions in market capitalization. If several hundred billion dollars aren’t motivation enough for what was done, I don’t know what is.


How Betsy Mitchell, Sheila Gilbert, Diana Gill, Beth Meacham, Jim Minz, Tom Doherty, and Other Publishing Legends Helped Launch My Writing Career

"The writing style is strong... The ideas are interesting and the writing good," wrote Betsy Mitchell, who went on to become Editor-in-Chief at Del Rey. "The fantasy world you have created is truly wonderful and rich. Your characters seem real and full of life," wrote Sheila Gilbert, who is a co-owner of DAW Books. Both were written in reply letters after the editors requested the full manuscript for Keeper Martin’s Tale, my debut novel of epic fantasy. This was the 1990s and these heady statements, even though they ultimately ended in rejection letters, were the fuel that drove my writing.

To say that Keeper Martin’s Tale made the rounds in the 1990s is an understatement. My queries went out month after month, year after year, and usually one submission at a time while I waited and waited and waited for a response. Rarely, like a white whale half seen in the distance, but frequently enough to keep me motivated, my queries were answered with requests to see the full manuscript as I mentioned.

Over a period of years and with a variety of manuscripts, including fantasy, sci-fi and more, I received exciting responses from Diana Gill, Beth Meacham, Jim Minz, Toni Weisskopf, Betsy Wollheim, Terri Windling and others. One requested full manuscript submission even made it all the way to Tom Doherty, founder of Tor Books.

These types of requests and responses often came with letters that had handwritten notes or notations signed by the editors themselves where they’d say wonderful things. One executive editor said "It's a creative, provoking, and above all, thoughtful story," before going on to talk about how hard it was to launch a new book or series by a new writer.

How hard it was to publish an unknown was a frequent mantra. The book is very good but we want more, another. Some suggested I try breaking out with short stories, a collection or nonfiction first, and then once published try to publish fiction. Undaunted, I framed and pinned up some of the best responses and rejection letters as I went and used them as inspiration to keep writing. Other writers I knew weren’t even getting past the query letter. Meanwhile, I was getting regular requests for full manuscripts.

One editor finally told me quite matter-of-factly that the story I created wasn’t right for the publisher’s line of books. Epic quests like Terry Brook’s Shannara were what publishers were publishing and readers were buying. The publisher didn’t quite know what to do with the type of story I had written.

Keeper Martin’s Tale and the other Ruin Mist books were, at their heart, a story of intrigue between two powerful families: The House of Alder and the House of Tyr’anth. Epic quests were a part of the story, but they weren’t the story.

Versions of the books that got the best response were the ones where I submitted the story of Adrina, Vilmos and Seth as separate chapters. Chapter 1 began Adrina’s story. Chapter 2, Vilmos’. Chapter 3, Seth’s. Chapter 4 continued Adrina’s story, Chapter 5 Vilmos’ and so on. But even though the approach attracted, I was told repeatedly in the end that the approach would never sell. No one would buy a book where the story switched to a different character every chapter, especially when later in the books there were so many different characters. Any reader of current fantasy fiction knows how wrong they were about that.

Wrong or not, their words directed my efforts and my writing. My first big break came because of the frequent insistence that I try breaking in with nonfiction or other types of writing, that once I was published and a known quantity I would have an easier time selling my lengthy fantasy epic and other works of fiction.

The break came when I sold an editor at Macmillan on a proposal for a technical how-to book. At the time, I was one of a select few with a strong background in writing and substantial technical expertise in this new experiment called the World Wide Web. Originally, I was supposed to just be a contributor to a book in progress, but the acquisition editor liked my approach, ideas and writing so much that eventually my approach was adopted instead and I took ownership and wrote over 800 pages of the 1000-page work.

The book became a top-seller for the publisher and put me on the bestseller list. I was immediately asked by Macmillan to write another book. That second book became a blockbuster bestseller and my career as a writer was established in grand style. My biggest moment back then was when I walked into a Borders and saw two floor-to-chest-high stacks of the book. Now, this was also a 1000-page book, but it was still a sight to behold. That book and the ones that followed sold like hotcakes at $49.99 - $79.99 each, and that was the 1990s.

Twenty years later, I am now the author of nearly 200 full-length works of fiction and nonfiction. My books have been published and/or distributed by nearly every major publisher. The big ones at least, including O’Reilly Media, Simon & Schuster, McGraw Hill, Pearson Education, Microsoft, and Random House.

Not bad for a guy who spent all those years with his face pressed against the glass, trying to break in.


Thanks for reading,


Robert Stanek


Stay in touch with Robert Stanek by connecting on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/robertstanekauthor or on twitter at http://twitter.com/robertstanek.



A Lifetime of Books – 30 Years of Robert Stanek Books

My name is Emily Asimov. When I heard of Robert Stanek’s lifetime achievement nomination, I jumped at the chance to write a tribute. Robert is one of the most inspirational people I know and an exceptionally talented writer. He’s also the reason my work is published today, and the author of some of my favorite childhood reads. From his superbly written “The Kingdoms & the Elves of the Reaches” to his sublime “Journey Beyond the Beyond,” I have been smitten with his work for years and gobbled up nearly everything he’s written.

An extremely prolific author, Robert Stanek has been writing for over 30 years and has produced close to 200 book-length works of fiction and nonfiction. It’s no secret to anyone who follows his work that he also writes as William Stanek and has been published by nearly every Big 6 / Big 5 publishing house. That feat alone would, and has, made him the subject of jealousy and envy throughout the writing community.

What most don’t know about Robert Stanek is his giving, earnest spirit. Robert is the type of guy who would (and has) literally given the shirt off his back to help someone in need.

Robert has given tirelessly throughout his life to support causes he believes in. Anyone who knows him knows the causes he champions: veterans, peoples with disabilities, animal rights, conservation, and education. And books and libraries have no better friend.

If there was ever an author who deserved to be recognized for lifetime achievement it is Robert Stanek. When I think of books and authors I’ve read and reread during my life, only a rare few spring to mind with Robert being atop that short list. His works have challenged and inspired me. His works have educated me. His works have opened my mind.

Listing all of my favorites and the reasons why here would take pages, so I’ll keep things brief and list the top few:

The Kingdoms & the Elves of the Reaches, fifteen years in print and forever in the canon of fantasy classics

Journey Beyond the Beyond, a beautiful, underappreciated master work

Air War, a timeless snapshot of life in war that pays homage to the men and women Robert Stanek served with

The Cards in the Deck, an edgy thriller that far surpasses the original work, The Pieces of the Puzzle

After the Machines, one of the best works of science fiction I’ve ever read  

These books alone are reason enough for Robert to be “one of the most featured and respected Kids & Young Adult authors” as named by The Audio Bookstore. But Robert has written many, many more, and all of which are worthy of your time and support.

When it comes to helping others, Robert has spent a tremendous amount of time and effort championing veterans, peoples with disabilities, and other causes he believes in. Robert is a veteran of multiple wars, conflicts and campaigns, including Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Provide Comfort. In his inspirational true story, Air War, he writes about doing what was needed when called upon, the pieces of himself left behind on the battlefield, and his willingness to give everything to what he believes in. I came away from the reading in tears, a new respect for our service men and women, and with a profound sense that something deep within me had changed. Something had changed. I had grown as a person from living his experiences through his words.

The causes and challenges of peoples with disabilities aren't just something Robert supports but something he believes in wholeheartedly. He has a daughter with Downs Syndrome and some disability from his service. Whether supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, Special Olympics or otherwise, you can tell he gives a hundred percent every time. 

People like Robert who give with their heart rarely receive anything in return. But after reading this, I hope you will join me in supporting Robert Stanek, spreading the good word about his work, and sharing his kind heart and beautiful spirit with others. 

Robert Stanek is an author whose works you should read and shout about from the rooftops. He's earned the support a hundred times over.

Emily Asimov


Shop Local During the Holidays

A quick update for Go Indies. This holiday season, I urge you to tell friends and family to shop digital online, but shop local otherwise.

Online is the place to buy digital, such as e-books, apps, e-games and e-music, but offline should be where you shop otherwise. Shopping in stores and locally protects jobs and the economy. Millions of jobs are on the line.

Food for thought: For every job Amazon adds to its workforce, up to 10 jobs are taken from the economy. Many of those jobs are gone forever.

Amazon’s vision of the future includes a completely autonomous robotic workforce in its warehouses filling orders replacing people. Robots are already used extensively throughout Amazon’s fulfillment system. Amazon’s vision of the future also includes drones delivering orders, replacing drivers wherever possible. If this future happens, Amazon’s impact on the economy and jobs could double or triple.

Show your support for people, the economy and jobs by blogging, tweeting and sharing:

This holiday season, shop digital online
shop local otherwise.
#shoplocal #savejobs #peoplefirst #jobsfirst

This message is not anti-Amazon; it’s pro people, jobs and the economy. Buy your digital goods wherever; buy your physical goods in stores whenever possible.

Thanks for reading,

Thanks for sharing,

Robert Stanek


Promotion Services Update: More BookBub, Bargain Booksy, Free Booksy, Kindle Marketing, Genre Pulse

I’m Robert Stanek, a pro author since 1994 and an indie since 2001. Today, I have a special report in a continuing series of articles on book promotion services. I had hoped to have the full research reports completed for a number of services we’ve been tracking and testing since 2014. But with the unexpected early release of Windows 10, which I’ll be writing about in three upcoming books: Windows 10: The Personal Trainer, Windows 10 Step Up and Windows 10 Fast Start, I’ll have to keep this update short and sweet. Thanks to the team for the initial writeup, with my additions and edits!

Team Update

Yes, Team Read Indies heard and considered your increasing complaints and gripes about BookBub (www.bookbub.com), and how you’re tired of its high prices that keep going higher for decreasing returns on your investment and sales. Team Read Indies increasingly agrees the service is overpriced for what’s delivered, and that pricing seems largely based on how much money they think the average writer is going to make from a promotion. We also agree with complaints that the information and statistics provided by BookBub are misleading and need strong disclaimers regarding active, open, click and buy rates.

Our research on BookBub is here and here. For another take on BookBub, we recommend the independent research from Indies Now:

The eye-opening graphic below, reprinted with permission from the book, best summarizes the true picture regarding BookBub--and the statistics come from BookBub’s own published numbers and public statements.

As the graphic shows, one million subscribers doesn’t mean one million people are going to see the ad for your book. Only about 30 – 45% of subscribers are active at any given time and of these, only a smaller percentage even open the daily email containing any particular ad. This quickly whittles down the 1 million number to the base number of people who potentially could see your ad: 22 – 35% of the actives or about 66,000 to 157,500 per one million subscribers.

Of these, only 21 - 29% actually click on something and of the clickers only 34 - 58% actually buy something. Overall, only 8 to 12 % of buyers buy your book (when an email has 5 to 12 book listings). The chances of getting a buy go down proportionally to the number of book listings. If a daily email has 20 to 25 books instead of 5 to 12 your chances of success go down 50 to 75% (closer to 3 to 5% of buyers).

An update on promotion services Team Read Indies has been researching since 2014 and had hoped to have final research reports on :

Bargain Booksy (www.bargainbooksy.com)
Free Booksy (www.freebooksy.com)
Genre Pulse (www.genrepulse)

Bargain Booksy / Free Booksy

Bargain Booksy and Free Booksy are two of our favorite up and comers. Both services are run by the same management team – a team who graciously accepted our offer to talk with them regarding their services. Robert sat down with the management team and conducted an extensive interview, which will be part of the upcoming research report.

As the names imply, Bargain Booksy is where readers go to find bargain books and Free Booksy is where readers go to find free books.

With Bargain Booksy, pricing ranges from $25 to $50 and all genres of books are accepted. Pricing here is somewhat high relative to return on investment, and like most promotion services somewhat high for the value delivered. Fair pricing, based on observed results from the 18-month study, would be at least 20% - 35% lower than current rates.

However, this is true of all services we’ve tested. For example, based on actual value delivered for paid books, BookBub is priced 150% to 500% over the actual value delivered, depending on genre and book price. However, BookBub offers a mostly fair value for promotions of free books. 

With Free Booksy, pricing ranges from $40 to $200 and all genres of books are accepted. Though we like the service, pricing here is very high relative to return on investment and value delivered. As an example, a paranormal romance promoted at BookBub for $195 will get most authors 4,000 to 16,000 downloads, a cost of .05 to .0125 per download.

A paranormal romance promoted at Free Booksy for $200 will get most authors 1,200 to 3,500 downloads, a cost of .17 to .06 per download, making Free Booksy up to 7X more costly than BookBub. Fair pricing, based on observed results from the 18-month study, would be at least 50% - 75% lower than current rates. To be clear, the same is true of most of the promotion services we’ve studied:

BookBub is overpriced 150% to 500% for paid books. We’d like to see flat-pricing for paid books—not pricing based on how much money BookBub thinks you’re going to make off a promotion and then pricing everything so most authors break even at best (and at worst spend a lot of money for a lot less return than expected).
ENT’s recent price hike has made them less of a value and actually put them on the overpriced side. The price hike was unwarranted and also increasingly based on how much money an author can potentially earn from a promotion. Whether an author wants to price a paid book at .99, 1.99 or 2.99 pricing should be the same.
Fussy Reader also recently hiked prices, making them less of a value. We’d like to see the prices rollback to retain the high value we saw in our earlier research.
The Reading Club has had two recent price hikes, both making the service less of a value. Again, we’d like to see the prices rollback to retain the high value we saw in our earlier research.

Where Bargain Booksy and Free Booksy shine is with helping newer authors with promotion, as their rules and restrictions are more inline with how these types of businesses should operate. Basically, if you have a book that has a marketable cover, a marketable description, looks professional overall, appropriate pricing and money to spend on advertising, you should qualify for any service and be able to spend that advertising money wherever and however you please. Amen. Kudos to Bargain Booksy and Free Booksy for their openness and true interest in helping authors.

Kindle Marketing

On to Kindle Marketing (https://www.fiverr.com/kindlemarketing). Our earlier research on Fiverr promotion was pretty condemning. However, we did find a few bright spots and have researched them thoroughly. One of these is Kindle Marketing, a dedicated team of marketers who truly cares about your success and gives excellent value for your marketing dollars. The $5 basic gig plus the $5 viral social media option gave the best value: daily promotion for 7 days on social media. This is a great value for the investment, as Kindle Marketing will create an ad for you and then promote it up to 20 times each day for 7 days, giving you up to 140 promotion opportunities.

Basically, in talking with Kindle Marketing your $10 is buying 1-hour of an associate’s time. Kindle Marketing will go to sites, groups on Facebook and other social media and post for you each day. We’ve tried something similar and it took 5 hours to set up with all the sites and another 3 hours to make a similar number of promotions each day ourselves. So $10 for an hour of an experienced marketer’s time? Yes, a great value.

Another excellent value was the $5 basic gig plus the $5 viral social media option and the $20 option to extend the promotion for 30 days. Again, a great value for the investment, as Kindle Marketing will create an ad for you and then promote it up to 20 times each day for 30 days, giving you many promotion opportunities. In talking with Kindle Marketing your $30 is buying 3-hours of an associate’s time. Considering Fiverr gets a 20% cut and Kindle Marketing actually only receives $24, it’s a great value, unless you really have the time to do something like this yourself. We tried and even with everything set up for promotion, it took 6 -7 hours of our time.

Another excellent value was the career makeover gig, which provides everything an author needs to start turning his or her writing career around and start getting sales. To be effective, you really do need to order the complete set of extras in the appropriate quantities and then get out of their way to let them help you. The service requires an investment of time and money—and Kindle Marketing expects the author to work as hard as they do to turn things around. Here the options you need to make the service worthwhile can include cover revisions, bio revision, social media building, revision of book descriptions, keywords and categories, and more depending on author.

The initial analysis provides a report on your current author platform and where you need to go. A required first step so Kindle Marketing can review where you are on social media. You’re not really paying for the report; you’re paying for their time in reviewing your current efforts. Thus, if you buy this option and nothing else, you’re wasting your money and time.

The average cost of a makeover was $200 to $500 and the results? Authors who previously had no or few sales, started seeing regular sales. To them, it was money well spent. There are caveats, though. For authors with one book or two, your time and effort is better spent on writing your next book. You really do need 3 or more books to benefit from this type of service.

Genre Pulse

Genre Pulse is another promotion service we’ve researched and will report on in the weeks ahead. James, the founder of the service, was also gracious with his time and willingness to work with our team and Robert. Robert interviewed James and discussed the service at length, the results of which will be published with our forthcoming study.

Genre Pulse is a service that shows a lot of promise and potential. However, during our research, the service was priced at $30 for full promo and $10 for apps only promo. Both of which were slightly overpriced based on results. The service is now priced at $40 for full promo and $15 for apps only promo, with no real change in results. Though the service is growing, we don’t feel the price increase is warranted. Look for the occasional sales that put pricing for full promo at $20 - $25 to get a better value. Though fairer pricing would be $20 flat fee. Apps only pricing, however, needs to come down about 50%, which would then make the offering a value.

That said, Genre Pulse retains a recommendation with caveats we'll discuss in more depth later. James seems to genuinely want to help authors, so let him know your thoughts and give his service a try! If you don't get the expected results, let him know that too and he may help you out.

Thanks for reading,

Team Read Indies


More on Social Media Promotion Services: BuckBooks (NO!) and BKnights (Maybe!)

BuckBooks, operated by ArchAngelInk (AKA ArchAngelEST, Matt Stone, Rob Archangel, Buck Flogging, et al), is a promotion service that requires member authors to promote and talk up the service in exchange for free promotion. Be aware that authors talking up the service typically are being compensated in some way to do so, whether by virtue of their free promotions or otherwise.

BuckBooks is not a mini BookBub or anything approaching a mini anything and those stating such are doing so for the sole purpose of getting authors to sign up. Team ReadIndies has not been able to verify any of the wild claims of sales success, and we have tried many times. ReadIndies is issuing an avoid advisory on this service, based on this behavior and the behavior of its founders.

In our earlier report on Social Media Promotion Services, we were disappointed to find that by and large the facebook/twitter/blog services didn't work. However, we did hold back on discussing a service with potential:

Our comments about Bknights have been publicly available since February 16, 2015 (http://readindies.blogspot.com/2015/02/facebook-twitter-blog-book-promotion.html) and this post expands on those comments.

Although this service was included in our earlier study, we just now completed full research on the service for the 24 participating authors who used the service to promote 34 books from many genres/categories, including:

Literary Fiction

At least 16 of the 24 participants used the service one or more times. What follows is a summary of results gathered.

We didn't include our research in the previous report as fundamental changes to the service were made subsequent to the time we started our research.

Bknights provides several Fiverr gigs, all of which revolve around various social media promotions:
  • $5 for promotion to 15 Best Kindle sites
  • $5 for FB Page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Digital-Book-Spot/376198459143010?fref=ts
  • $5 for promotion on a website at www.DigitalBookSpot.com
  • $5 for promotion on Twitter @DigitalBookSpot
  • $5 for promotion via DigitalBookSpot newsletter for ebook lovers
The first gig submits a FREE kindle book to 15 kindle sites/facebook groups. The remaining four gigs revolve around DigitalBookSpot promotions. Individually, the participants did not believe each option was worth $5, and collectively, the full package doesn't seem to be worth $25 either. However, if you can get multiple services for $5 instead of $15, $20 or $25, this likely would be a good value.

To get multiple services for $5, you must be a member of one of the discussion forums that Brian, who runs the service, hangs out at, and you must mention the forum when ordering the gig. Just be aware, that this preferential treatment, given to a subset of customers, gives extra value that may be the source of the excessively high praise. Keep in mind, however, that you might not get the preferential treatment or the value from which the raves are derived, and the raves themselves are often from the same raters over and over. (NOTE: Fiverr allows the same raters to rate as many times as they use a service with no limitations and that's how a few raters rating over and over can suddenly become thousands.)

Further, when reviewers are talking about getting XYZ of downloads from a Bknights promotion, they're talking about books in popular categories being given away for free at Amazon that may or may not have received any actual boost from the service.

ReadIndies advice for anyone considering Bknights is to use the website gig and no other options. The Twitter and Facebook gigs have virtually no value (and should in fact be free as part of the standard $5 gig). The value of the newsletter is growing, as the subscriber base grows. However, at the time of this writing, having a listing in the newsletter isn’t worth $5.

If possible, you should also ensure you receive more than one service for $5. Otherwise, at present, way too many books are being featured each day for there to be any consistent value. As examples:

  • 90 books were featured on 2/17; 71 books were featured on 2/16; 59 books were featured on 2/15
  • 121 books were featured on 3/18 and 79 were featured on 3/17

That's way too many features for any book to stand out, and substantially different than the number of books featured historically. As an example, these numbers are 3X - 4X what they were last June/July -- and that was a time when listings could stay up for multiple days as well.

To be clear as crystal, Bknights was absolutely a good value last June/July and earlier, with 25 or so books featured each day. However, with 80, 90, 100 or more books now being featured at a time, Bknights is no longer a good value. Some few who use the service may get results to return the nominal investment; many others won’t.

It should also be pointed out that Bknights is much more than a $5 service. If in fact 70 books on average are new features each day, that means Bknights could quickly develop into a $100K+ a year business. While we think Fiverr may be a good place to start a business, we hope Bknights will develop the service further to ensure every author gets true value.

Thanks for reading,

Team Read Indies


Promoting a First Novel with Book Promotion Services – Which Should I use?

Recently, received an excellent question in the comments from “Dollar for Dollar Are These the Best Book Promotion Services?” regarding promotion of first novels and wanted to put the answer in its own post as I think it may be helpful to other first-time writers.

Question: If I am trying to promote my first novel, should I avoid these services? - as I wouldn't earn enough to recoup the costs, and I don't have any other titles that might benefit. Any recommendations for first timers?

Answer: On the contrary, BargainReading, Fussy Reader and The Reading Club truly are the best performers with respect to return on investment, dollar for dollar. Under our focused tests, which carefully tracked only true results, these three actually either came very close to earning back 100% of the investment or actually earned back the investment plus. No other book promotions services we’ve tested have done that, ENT and BookBub included.

Enewsreadertoday and BookBub remain top recommendations and thumbs up selections. However, they didn’t give a full return on investment. With Enewsreadertoday: At .99, authors earned back $7 on average from royalties and paid $30 on average. At $1.99, authors earned back $14 on average from royalties and paid $45 on average. At $2.99, authors earned back $62 on average from royalties and paid $90 on average.

@ .99 this is a .23 ROI. @ 1.99 this is a .31 ROI. @ 2.99 this is a .69 ROI. All of which is a good and tangible result, which you don’t necessarily see with marketing.

With BookBub: At .99, books didn’t recoup the cost of the promotion or even come close; the average .99 book earned $108 (.35 from each sale) but the average promotion cost was $420. At $1.99, books didn’t recoup the cost of the promotion or even come close either; the average $1.99 book earned $224 (.70 from each sale) but the average promotion cost was $772. At $2.99, books came closer to recouping the cost of the promotion; the average $2.99 book earned $788 (2.04 from each sale) but the average promotion cost was $1294.

@ .99 this is a .26 ROI. @ 1.99 this is a .29 ROI. @ 2.99 this is a .61 ROI. All of which is a good and tangible result.

The reason ENT and BookBub remain top recommendations are because you typically don’t see complete return of investment from marketing – the actual return isn’t necessarily a tangible result. This is true of all marketing – all marketing ever done. Marketing isn’t necessarily about the instant sales. It’s about building recognition, brand, name, etc. What you get with ENT is access to some segment of 500,000 readers. What you get with BookBub is access to some segment of 5 million readers.

Similarly, Bargain Reading gives you access to 500,000 readers. Fussy Reader, access to 1.5 million readers. The Reading Club, access to 5 million readers.

With Bargain Reading, for .99 books the earnings were $38, $47, and $57 respectively for “3 or less”, “4 to 12” and “More than 12” authors, after paying $50 on average. For 1.99 books the was $50, $59, and $69 respectively for “3 or less”, “4 to 12” and “More than 12” authors, after paying $50 on average, actually showing ROI.

@ .99 the ROI is .76, .94 and 1.14 respectively.
@ 1.99 the ROI is 1.0, 1.18 and 1.38 respectively.
@ 2.99 the ROI is 1.22, 1.34 and 1.4 respectively.

All of which are exceptional, tangible results.

With Fussy Reader, For .99 books, the earnings were $88, $92, and $99 respectively for “3 or less”, “4 to 12” and “More than 12” authors, after paying $90 on average. For 1.99 books, the earnings were $102, $106, and $114 respectively for “3 or less”, “4 to 12” and “More than 12” authors, after paying $90 on average. For 2.99 books, the earnings were $111, $116, and $122 respectively for “3 or less”, “4 to 12” and “More than 12” authors, after paying $90 on average.

@ .99 the ROI is .98, 1.02 and 1.1 respectively.
@ 1.99 the ROI is 1.13, 1.18 and 1.27 respectively.
@ 2.99 the ROI is 1.23, 1.29 and 1.36 respectively.

All of which are exceptional, tangible results.

With The Reading Club, authors who paid $300, earned back $295 to $390 and authors who paid $750 earned back $729 to $965. Thus, the ROI ranged from .98 to 1.3 for genres with smaller audiences and from .97 to 1.29 for genres with larger audiences.

All of which are exceptional, tangible results.

That said, it’s very hard to build following and sales with a first novel. Better to write the second than to spend money on marketing, but if you’re going to spend money, services that give you value over time would be your best bet, rather than one-time listings. 

With first-time novelists, I would avoid one-time listings for the most part, unless your book has been well received and has many favorable reviews. For that reason, I would more readily recommend BargainReading, Fussy Reader and The Reading Club to first-time novelists over the alternatives. You’re going to get so much more value for your money with respect to the things that can lead to long-term success: name/brand recognition, awareness, etc. As an example, Bargain Reading and Fussy Reader cost less than $20 a month for regular promotion and you'll get so much more value than if you purchased a few $10 listings somewhere.

But you really need to keep working on the next and the next novel to build that to success.