Me, Multiple Sclerosis, and the SciFi Readers Chart Show.July 15, 2022
My New Release: Deadly EnhancementsOctober 16, 2022
This post was originally published in Legion Bulletin #128. Join the Legion to receive the Bulletin.
The power of story
Stories have power.
Don’t underestimate that power.
Because compelling stories have motivated people to tear down empires, endure hideous torture and death, and to reshape the world.
Whether the stories being told have much truth to them matters not a jot.
In recent months, I’ve seen this truism up close in real life. It’s also a theme I’ve used throughout the Chimera Company series. I’ve found the similarities uncanny.
I’ve written about the oppression of the so-called mutants, egged on by the likes of Kadeja Independent News on the planet of Kryzabik (Book4: Smuggler Queen).
Then there’s the utopian-dystopian world of Eiylah-Bremah that’s riven by powerful stories with little basis in reality (Book3: Department 9).
Its citizens are so terrified of being sucked into a story in which they play the part of a villain that they avoid speaking and wear digital face masks to hide all facial expressions.
Mind you, on Eiylah-Bremah, it’s also true that citizens who fail to report a crime are given the same punishment as if they had committed that crime themselves. And since the laws are deliberately sparse and vague, almost any conceivable thought, word, or act could be construed as a crime. (I’m proud of that dystopian twist).
I’m a good way through writing book 6, tentatively titled Brothers in Arms for reasons that will be very clear when you read the epilogue. The plan is for this to be the final Chimera novel.
Which means it gets the biggest space battles and the most action of the lot. Plus we get to see a whole bunch more of the Muryani Expansion, the mega empire next door.
By the time we get to book 6, the various factions fighting each other across the Federation are faced with an ugly truth about an external threat that cannot be denied. False stories have been propping up the Federation for centuries, but now the whole edifice of lies crashes beneath the weight of truth.
The entire civilization is convulsing as a result. What will replace it?
Naturally, most the characters are far too busy trying to not be eaten or blown up to ponder political philosophy, but some have been here before and know that when civilizations collapse, something will replace it. And if you want what comes next to be better than what came before, you have to work damn hard to make it so.
Amazon is Screwing Authors
Back in the real world, Amazon has been stealing money from authors.
You see, when readers return Kindle eBooks, they get a full refund. Well, who do you think pays for the refund? Amazon is hardly going to lose out, are they? So they make the author refund the customer.
To add further insult, when you sell a book, Amazon takes a delivery fee out of the author’s royalty. When an eBook is returned, the author still has to pay that delivery fee.
That’s right. When a customer returns an eBook, Amazon charges the author more than they earned in royalties.
After a TikTok viral video watched by 17 million people, most self-published authors are being stung by a surge in eBook returns. Many of them have been sharing reports online showing negative royalty balances. In other words, they’re showing proof that they owe Amazon money through no fault of their own.
Does that make you angry?
It did me when I first heard it.
The problem with this story (as you have probably guessed) is that it isn’t true.
That this story has been doing the rounds is certainly true. There are thousands of tweets about this on Twitter alone. These people believe this story is true, even though it is false.
It is true that readers can indeed get a full refund on Kindle books. That bit is right.
Every other part of that Amazon story is not true.
Every. Single. One.
And I checked every word carefully to make absolutely certain.
Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the details of what really happens with book returns (1), but I did go through them myself because I believed this conspiracy theory at first.
But only for a short while.
Because I read Amazon’s terms and conditions to get their version of what should happen.
I didn’t take Amazon’s word for it. I went through my royalty statements and found that Amazon was right and the conspiracy theorists wrong.
Finally, I contacted colleagues in North America to verify that this wasn’t a difference between Amazon EU and Amazon US.
No, everyone I contacted agreed that this ‘we owe Amazon money’ story is utter nonsense.
In other words, not only is this powerful story not true, it’s very easy (in most cases) to prove it isn’t true. You know, with numbers and actual facts. What in the old days we called the truth.
But as I said at the top, the truth matters not a jot.
Because what counts is how powerful a story is.
And the power of a story is in how that story makes you feel.
Stories in which people can portray themselves as victims, those that hold up an evil villain and invite you to hurl abuse at them… whether Amazon and Jeff Bezos or Chimera’s purple-eyed mutants… these promote powerful feelings.
That’s what can make them so dangerous. The story wasn’t true but it provoked a great deal of genuine anger and hatred.
Compared to the big problems facing the real world — and the worlds of Chimera Company — the Amazon conspiracy theory is a storm in a literary teacup (2). And yet I was struck by this example of truth imitating art.
Because this Amazon story is exactly the kind of thing Kadeja Independent News peddles in Smuggler Queen. It felt uncanny.
Normal Pew-Pew Service Has Resumed
The main reason I write novels is to escape the real world. To travel somewhere else and experience a different life there.
Some people are contemptuous of escapism.
I’m not. I think it’s valuable. And I know it’s difficult to do well.
But behind the scenes, even with my escapist visions I try to lash them to the real world because I think that makes them more powerful.
So I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised when I was caught up in a real world story that so closely mirrors one out of Chimera Company.
But don’t go thinking that Chimera Company has gone all political philosophy on you.
The philosophy behind Chimera has always been monsters and explosions. Also derring-do and corny space jocks. Maybe a dash of salty banter. And goats. But mostly the monsters and explosions.
Because I believe that’s a recipe for powerful stories too.
And talking of monsters and explosions…
The next post is about my first cyberpunk story that has just been published. It’s called You’re Frakked! It features plenty of monsters and maybe a few explosions too.
Yes, footnotes. Why not? It’s not like this going to be a regular thing.
(1) I went through some of the details of the Amazon return story on my personal web page. In case anyone else was worried about the conspiracy theory, it points to a video where I show authors and publishers how to go through their numbers to prove what is actually going on for them. It’s here: https://timctaylor.wordpress.com/2022/08/31/amazon-ebook-return-controversy/
(2) The issue of Amazon eBook returns being maybe too easy to abuse has been around since the very beginning of Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. There have been many petitions on this over the years. Amazon says they aren’t detecting a spike in returns. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly credible because none of the authors I know have seen an increase in returns.
However, averages are no comfort at all to individuals being hit by exceptional circumstances. I am sure that some authors have indeed been stung by an increase in returns. They probably aren’t owing money to Amazon (though it is theoretically possible) but we don’t get paid royalties for books that have been read and returned, because the sale is canceled before our royalties are calculated and paid. That stinks. And it may hurt hard in the pocket for some individuals. I don’t want to imply that no one is getting hurt here.