It's been a while since I've been here on the Word Cloud - to the point that I'm not even certain that's what it's called any more! Where have I been? Well, I've been writing, editing, and - as of 7PM Sao Paulo local time on Sunday - publishing.
I still check in on Harry's blogs now and again, and I've noticed a few posts recently on the choice authors now face regarding whether to stick to the traditional query/agent/publisher route, or forge ahead alone and self-publish. Six months ago, midway through the draft of my first novel, ASCENSION POINT, I chose the latter. Here's why.
(Reproduced from http://dan-harris.net/2012/05/15/lets-get-digital-quite-possibly/. I've added some recent thoughts in italics.)
I just downloaded Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran. This week David has made it available for free on both Amazon UK and US, so there’s no excuse not to pick it up. You can also get the PDF version for free on David’s marvellous site here (and in my blogroll on the right). [Note: this deal is no longer running. Sorry!]
I’ve just finished reading the first part of the book, which deals with why authors should self-publish. David makes a very compelling case for doing so, and I’m surprised to say that I’ve quickly gone from planning to go the agent-legacy publisher route once my novel is ready to pitch, with self-publishing as a backup if that didn’t work out, to being (almost) completely decided that self-pub is the best primary option.
Why? A few things.
- Prompt publishing. Instead of spending months finding an agent, more months working with them to edit, more months finding a publisher, and then 12-18 months waiting for the book to finally be released, you can publish in days. [Needless to say, this is months and months of waiting IN THE BEST CASE. It's common knowledge that Harry Potter was rejected by 12 editors before being picked up: seems writing a future literary phenomenon isn't enough, you also need to get lucky!]
- Finances. ”Why give a publisher 52.5% of your royalties forever for something [editing, cover design] you could get done for a one-off payment of $2,000?” On the one hand, you have a typical $10,000 advance from a legacy publisher that the book will likely never earn out. On the other you have 70% royalties from a sale at $2.99, needing only 5,742 sales to beat that $10,000 advance, even including those $2,000 costs. And if that sales figure sounds huge, the number of self-pub authors selling more than 800 copies a month is large, and growing. [This hasn't changed since I wrote it. To add some specific detail, I've actually spent far less than $2k to get ASCENSION POINT ready to publish. $806 is the final total covering a developmental and line edit from a professional editor, a proofread from a second editor, and covers (eBook and paperback) created by a professional graphic artist. I've got my book up for sale at $4.99/£3.59. I need to sell 231 copies to break even. That ain't a lot.]
- E-book growth. E-books already make up ~30% of the market, and that’s only going to grow. Legacy publishing may be the only easy way to get a hard copy of a book into a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, but so what? It’s a tragic fact that most of those are closing down anyway. [For some writers being on the shelf in Waterstones or Borders is important; for me, not at all.]
- Marketing. Or, to be precise, the fact that even with a legacy publisher, the little-known midlist author is going to be required to do the bulk of the marketing and promotion for their novel anyway; building the platform, the blog, website, Twitter following. That $10,000 advance isn’t going to be backed up by a $50,000 marketing budget! So… [Still true. The indie author needs to be writer-publicist-marketer-publisher all rolled into one. It's many hats, and not all of them are comfortable, but if you can manage it you have complete control over your writing career.]
I mentioned above that I need 231 sales to break even. After publishing four days ago, so far I've sold five copies. The only promotion I've done is a couple of posts on my website, which only has 280-odd followers, and a couple of tweets to my 180-ish followers there. I'm pretty confident that sooner or later I'm going to hit that break even sale and start turning a profit.
If you're considering self-publishing, here are the golden rules I've heard from countless sources, reproduced without their permission :)
- Have a professional looking cover. Don't do it yourself in Paint. If you have no spare cash for a pro, be creative: crowdsource a cover from struggling art students - there are loads of them! Your cover is step 1 in getting readers to consider your book.
- Work hard on an enticing blurb. This is step 2 once the reader has clicked the cover. Get your blurb critiqued and polish it until it shines.
- Edit your MS thoroughly. That means several beta readers, and ideally a pro editor, but the frugal can... what am I saying, if you're reading this, you're already here on the best critiquing community on the web! This is step 3, because all eBook sites allow readers to view the first 10-15% of the book as a sample. Start strong, and you've a good chance they'll click buy.
I somehow wrote about 1500 words on this here, if anyone's
I hope this was interesting, and maybe even helpful.
All the best,
(p.s. if anyone wants to check out my cover, blurb, and sample, you can do so here :) http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009TCE6G4.)
This might mean, at the most basic level, liking each others' Facebook pages, or including links to each others' websites on our own. It could also mean sharing tips and ideas - I had no idea anyone made video trailers for books until Daisy mentioned it, for example - or even, if geography allows, organising joint readings. I'm building a list of contacts who have shown some interest in Mouseman, and would be willing to circulate links to other writers' promotional material in exchange for the same. Maybe these and other ideas could be discussed and organised through a cloud group? If even half a dozen of us take part, we'll each get six times the exposure for very little extra effort. Let me know what you think!
In the words of a mostly long-forgotten song, It’s Been Awhile. A while since I was here, at least. So for all those Cloud birthdays I’ve missed, all those competition entries I’ve not read, those blogs I’ve not commented on, arguments I’ve not let myself get ridiculously involved in, well, happy birthday, congrats on the win, couldn’t agree more and don’t be ridiculous. There. Caught up.
As well as doing a little thing that actually earns money, I’ve been researching ‘the market’, talking to authors and publishers, reading loads of new books and submitting my novel. (For those of you with longish memories, yes, still the same one. Number two’s still a WIP.) And in doing these tasks, I think I’ve learned a thing or two.
The first thing is that my novel is extremely unlikely to be picked up by an agent. This thing comes under the heading of Facing Facts. I was pretty much told this by the most wonderful Cloud-based editor at the completion of the final draft under her watchful eye. Not that this was necessarily a problem. We agreed that it was a genre-hopper, an idiosyncratic read in a distinctive style that might be known as Marmite, a rule-breaker (the first sentence runs to 91 words – deliberately - and many others struggle to reach two syllables). And after running out of fingers and toes to count agent submissions (and rejections from those who actually replied – yes, there are still a few who, despite in some cases entering into correspondence about the book still haven’t replied months later), I’ve pretty much decided that me and agents aren’t going to become besties. To be fair, one or three have been lovely in their refusals, being highly complimentary about the work and admitting that in the ‘current market’ they would find it hard to place. Which is encouragement of a sort, of course.
So Indie publishers were my next stop. About half a dozen of them. Two requested a full manuscript. And yet ultimately the same result. Different degrees of praise doused with brusque rejection, although there are still a couple I’ve yet to hear back from.
Then there are those who have actually read the whole thing. Yes, some friends (they don’t really count in terms of subjectivity, of course). Some folk from this very site, again friends but mostly of a different type in that they rarely buy me a pint or tap me up for twenty quid, so perhaps a little more subjective. And a couple of authors who, beyond the odd Tweet in another part of the interweb, I don’t know at all. Except that they’re both best selling writers, of one kind or another. And they both loved it, or said thy did. Which perhaps was the only valediction I needed.
As to that place known as ‘the market’… I was advised at the Festival of Writing in York last year that all new writers should read the latest novels to see what’s clambering through the ether and onto shelves, the inference being that this is what a new writer should aim to replicate. This created a problem.
How so? Because many of those works I was supposed to emulate, to respect, to admire, I thought were, um, well, dull. Dull, dull, dull. No flair, little engagement, one dimensional and simplistic (no, I’m not naming names and no, this view doesn’t apply to every new book I read. Just most of them). And yet in times such as these, a bereft economy and an uncertain future, it’s what people want. They don’t want to be challenged or made to think, to be shown something that’s outside of their previous experience. Instead they want comfort and warmth, and this applies to all forms of entertainment, on the whole. So I would retreat after reading yet another ‘best debut novel of the year’ into my version of comfort and warmth, to Bret Easton Ellis, to David Peace, to James Ellroy, to Glen Duncan, and I would read and revel and ask myself how many of these writers would break into today’s ‘market’? (Incidentally, I also remember an agent at York asking me what was the last novel I’d read. The Passage by Justin Cronin, I replied. Hmm, he said, another overwritten book that would have benefited from a decent editor. Aside from the fact that I loved The Passage, it’s become a best seller, shifting hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. So much for overwritten.)
So where’s all this going? Well, a couple of weeks ago I had lunch with my best friend. She asked whether I’d read Fifty Shades of Grey yet? I said I hadn’t, but then I’d read many reviews of it, the majority of which were highly uncomplimentary, and in any case, wasn’t it self-published? She looked at me, snorted, and said So? And somewhere a penny dropped and as it hit the floor it took with it prejudices and snobbery and the need for approval from an industry that I’d come to realise I didn’t respect nearly as much as I thought I had.
Since then, I’ve been investigating the murky world of self publishing a little further. Some of it has been like a trawl through a Soho back alley on a rain-swept night. But some of it has been like stepping out of the shade beneath a leafy palm and onto a beach of the finest gold and looking at a sea of the brightest blue. And right now, a dip in those waters looks pretty appealing.
Initially, I am making these available as PDF files but I will be uploading them to Amazon's Kindle website as well. Later, I will also make them available in EPUB file for Barnes & Noble and Microsoft Word document for Smashwords. The five novels are listed below and this website has separate pages that you can click on for all the information and download. And they're all free!
Why are they free? I hear you ask. The reason is simple: I'm an unknown writer. This is an internship. Like any intern, I offer my work for nothing so that you can judge whether it is any good or not. If you think the books are good, then pass it on because word of mouth is the best form of marketing for a writer. Ultimately, if the fates are kind, these books will be Kindled and the free downloads will have to stop (Amazon rules). But, for now, please feel free to download and read them. Pass them on. If you are so minded, you can leave a review on each webpage which (with your permission) I may add to this website. So, please....fill your boots!
Which author truly wants to close their Lithuanian rights deal (at midnight) while updating their blog (at 6 a.m.), revisiting the copy edit for the fourth time (a whole morning’s work) and keeping an eye on the hourly change of their book’s pricing? As Amanda Hocking, a returnee to “legacy publishing”, recently said: “It drove me nuts.” J K Rowling didn’t publish her adult novel on Pottermore or a variation thereof, and Vintage US has just bought the erotic sensation Fifty Shades of Grey after 250,000 downloads of this independently published novel. Authors need publishers; they need experts to guide and protect them.
However, the arguments I heard on a recent trip to New York suggests publishers are still focused in on themselves.
After listening to the anguish and turmoil of my fellow writers
for a while now, I am beginning to consider the option of
starting my own small-scale publishing firm.
I have had the opportunity to read a number of perfectly publishable books over the past year, and yet publishers turned these authors down, including me!
Now I'm not disillusioned, I know exactly how difficult this will be. It will require a great amount of time and effort to set up, it will be a costly venture and may well fall at the first hurdle!
However, I am between jobs at the moment, I have nothing better to do, and who better to work for than myself? I have some knowledge of business and some friends who have started their own business from scratch so I can always call on them for advice. I also have a friend who has experience of supporting up-and-coming businesses from when she worked in PR, so I'm not really on my own here.
Like I said it's just a thought at the moment and nothing is set in stone.
Does anyone have any thoughts on this?
Be as blunt as you want - If you think it is a stupid idea, tell me! If you have some advice or know any useful sites, organisations or anything that can help me, I'm all ears.
I didn't publicise it either. My primary reason for sticking it up in the first place was to get some sense/feedback of who my potential readers might be. I've had a trickle of sales so far, but I have no idea who these people are. After a while I realised I needed to be more proactive and started trawling through various websites, primarily websites that did occasional book reviews. Many such websites explicitly stated that they were not interested in reviewing ebooks. Very annoying, but entirely understandable - given the volume of ebooks self-published in the last few months, they would be inundated, and inundated with work of extremely variable quality.
The main benefit of self-publishing on Amazon is that it provides you with a platform for your work. And unlike a bookshop - where your shelf-life is finite - your book will be on sale and available to ereaders pretty much for as long as you (or your descendants) wish it to be. I think this is one aspect of the whole ebook phenomena that hasn't really been considered; it's important because it enables an author to adopt a long-term strategy when promoting his or her work and to build up a readership.
The downside is that you are just one voice in a very crowded marketplace and that there is a justifiable perception on the part of the public that the quality of self-published ebooks is mediocre at best. You have to convince them otherwise. Your opportunities are surprisingly limited. Readers are wary of writers who promote their own work or their friend's work. This isn't helped by self-publishers who constantly gate-crash threads and web-sites trying to sell their wares. As a result you have a community of self-published authors all busily promoting each other's work. Well, what else can they do?
And there's the rub: if you can find readers who like your work (and, just as importantly, readers willing to read your work in the first place) then it's pretty much in the bag.
Scott Nicholson has been picked up by Amazon’s increasingly busy imprint Thomas & Mercer. He signed a two-book deal which will include his self-published title,Liquid Fear, and the forthcoming sequel, Chronic Fear.
Both will be released by Amazon on December 20 this year.
Summer is traditionally a slow period in publishing. Not for Thomas & Mercer, who have also snapped up Michael Wallace and J Carson Black in the last ten days, adding them to their earlier batch of summer signings JA Konrath, Barry Eisler, and Blake Crouch.
Along with some of the popular backlist titles of Ed McBain, Thomas & Mercer have an extremely strong line-up heading into the holiday season and beyond.
I will save a more in-depth analysis of Amazon’s apparent strategy for another blog post, but it is very clear that they are specifically targeting successful self-publishers. And indeed, many of the writers they have signed have said that Amazon were the only publisher they would consider signing with.
Why? Barry Eisler gave some clues when he mentioned a competitive advance, an extremely equitable digital royalty split, and a generally author-friendly contract all round, including the freedom to continue to self-publish other projects.
Others will note the speed with which Amazon can bring titles to market, and that they are both willing to release the digital version first, and leave the self-published title up in advance of the Amazon release to continue building an audience.
Joe Konrath has explained the power of an Amazon marketing push, something they don’t restrict to new titles, unlike most publishers.
Amazon have mountains of data on millions and millions of customers around the world. They don’t just know what they viewed and what they purchased, they also know how likely a certain demographic is to sample or purchase a book if displayed the book cover. And they – and they alone – know which books are actually read, and which people read one chapter of and never finish.
They also know which writers lead readers to buy further titles after reading one book and which titles they select, and how quickly they do it. And they also know which customers will buy titles based on an emailed recommendation from Amazon.
But that’s just what they are doing now. To read
some of Scott Nicholson's thoughts on why he signed with them,
read his guest post on my blog today:
From the beginning, I promised to publish my sales figures every month. I had several reasons for this. Joe Konrath was the first I know of to share all his numbers.
Several followed his lead, and that culture of openness he initiated was a key factor in my realization that self-publishing was now a viable path for any writer.
I think most writers find these numbers helpful, but I know a minority find it a little distasteful. That’s fine.
If you are if that persuasion, I have a guest post today over at the blog of Jonathan Dalar which you can read instead, called “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” about the tactics that some defenders of the status quo are using to steer writers away from self-publishing.
For the rest of you that don’t mind the monthly peek in my
wallet, the full July sales report, along with analysis of my
first three months self-publishing, is here:
For the click-shy, here's the short version: over 500 e-books sold in the first 3 months, including around 300 short stories, and a massive increase in revenue in July - I made around $425 (up from around $35 in June).
The big players are already jockeying for position in advance of what promises to be a bumper Christmas season for e-reader, tablet, and e-book sales.
All the major manufacturers are expected to release new e-readers and tablets including Sony, Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. In addition, there are expected to be a range of devices from a selection of manufacturers tied to the Google platform.
While users of one device aren’t necessarily chained to the retailer’s e-bookstore, customers will tend to do most of their shopping there because it’s just easier. The one major exception to that trend was Apple.
Their uninspiring iBookstore never had the design chops (or popularity) of something like iTunes. In fact, it was never a priority for the company – the app wasn’t even shipped with the first batches of iPads and iPhones. When that app became the most downloaded of summer 2010, Apple relented and included it with all future shipments.
But they never moved many books. There was big fanfare in March 2011 when they announced they had “sold” 100 million books. This figure, of course, included free downloads. And when you factor in that they have sold over 100 million iPhones worldwide and 25 million iPads, this figure becomes a little less impressive.
In fact, by the time the WWDC rolled around in June, Apple again announced that they had “sold” 100 million books. Not much movement there.
Two recent developments should change all that. First, the iBookstore was integrated properly into iTunes, and the huge delay in uploaded books propagating to iTunes itself was dramatically cut from months to a matter of days.
Second, and much more importantly, Apple belatedly followed through on their earlier threat to bar in-app purchases.
There is some confusion out there regarding what this means, and what effect it will have. But this is big news, and I’ll explain why.
Up until now, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch owners were able to download the Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Google, or Kobo apps and purchase books through them. In effect, they will no longer be able to do so.
Instead, they will have to go through the relatively laborious process of opening their web browser, navigating to the site of the e-bookstore in question, searching for the book they want, signing into their account, then purchasing it.
You might not think this is a big deal. However, having worked for a major tech company, and conducted and participated in several usability studies, I can tell you that the more steps you add to a potential purchase, for every extra click a customer has to make before their payment is processed, the number of sales falls dramatically.
People are lazy. Especially online. They expect to be able to click once or twice and get what they want easily. If they can’t they will go somewhere else where they can.
All those iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch owners who read e-books will start using the iBookstore in their droves.
Amazon will lose market share. Apple will gain market share. I would imagine that Google, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo will also see a slight drop-off.
That’s what will happen in the short term. In the long-term, it could affect the sales of Apple devices. I understand the logic of Apple’s move. No-one was using their bookstore. However, Apple usually try and compete by producing the very best product, and charging a premium for it – which customers are happy to pay.
This time, they are forcing customers to use a vastly inferior product. There may be a backlash. Personally, I was trying to decide between an iPad, an iPhone, and a Kindle. This may have made the decision for me. I try and avoid generalizations based solely on my own feelings, but I would imagine that, given some of the feedback on various tech sites, I am not alone.
This is just one battleground in a fiercely competitive war that’s taking place all over the US and, indeed, the world.
Toys-R-Us have announced that they will start carrying the Kindle from Sunday, joining Walmart, Staples, Target, and BestBuy. OfficeMax and Fred Meyer Stores will start stocking the Nook from tomorrow, joining Walmart, Staples, and BestBuy, as well as all the Barnes & Noble stores.
Apple have their own network of swish retail stores, but their tablet can also be purchased at Target, Walmart, and BestBuy.
Kobo, meanwhile, have a bit of an image problem, in the US at least. Tied in customers minds to the liquidating Borders organization, they have been plagued with requests for discounts from bargain-hunting customers, assuming that they are being liquidated too.
They aren’t, but that notion won’t help US sales.
As for the rest, the amount of high-traffic outlets stocking e-readers keeps on increasing. More people will come into contact with new e-readers every day. More people will be living in a town with no bookstore, but with several retailers stocking all kinds of different e-readers.
And then, in September and October, all the new devices will be released: an Amazon tablet (and possibly a phone), a new iPhone, maybe a new iPad too, a new Nook reader, and lots and lots more.
The new devices will have attractive price tags, and the older models will be slashed. Amazon are widely expected to drop the ad-supported Kindle below the $100 psychological price point. Their competitors will follow suit, and some will even undercut them.
All of these new products will be launched with wall-to-wall promo, both online and offline, both in all the above-mentioned outlets, and in the media.
If you are skeptical about what kind of numbers these devices will sell in, you should note that only 12% of the US population own an e-reader, and only 8% own a tablet. E-reader ownership doubled in the six months from November 2010 to May 2011, while tablet ownership only increased marginally.
Amazon are said to be producing 15 million Kindles, and they, historically, tend to be conservative in their production numbers.
All of these new device owners will want something to read, which is why the device manufacturers are all keen to tie their readers to their stores.
From last November right through to February this year, there was a huge surge in e-book sales as people loaded up their devices. In fact, in February, e-books were the #1 selling format in the US (they are currently #2 for 2011 so far).
I expect a similar surge this year.
If you are a self-published writer, and you are wondering what all this means for you, or how you can best position yourself to take advantage of all these changes, I would suggest two things.
First, if you are not in the iBookstore, either by uploading direct, or through Smashword’s Premium Catalogue, make that a priority for all your existing titles.
Second, if you are spending a lot of time promoting and not so much writing, you might want to reconsider. This is traditionally a slow time of year for book sales (and e-books seem to be following that pattern).
So instead of busting a gut on promo in a slow market, perhaps you should be focusing on getting more books up in time for the holiday season.
Then you can promote.