Monthly Archives: April 2011

Is the self pub ebook boom sustainable?

20 April 2011
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Passive Guy’s thoughts on indie writing are no secret, but he tries to make sure he keeps looking at both sides of the argument. The world of Big Publishing and its agents and authors is filled with a lot of smart people who haven’t all suddenly gone stupid.

Earlier today, I posted about David Hewson’s Twitter shock. I decided to check him out a little because I hadn’t heard of him before. He must be a big-time author because his About links don’t say anything about him, just who his agents are and where he’ll be appearing.

Like many traditionally-published authors, David thinks this self-publishing stuff will never last. By next year, it will all fade away. Note that David is certain every indie writer is just trying to use unconventional tactics to snag a contract with a big publisher.

For those prone to the vapors, I’ll issue an advance CONDESCENSION ALERT! If you feel an attack coming on, slowly back away from your computer, lie down and breath deeply until the symptoms pass.

Excerpts from David’s blog post:

What happens when the material runs out. Let’s be honest. A lot of the stuff going up there right now is old material. Backlist (some of mine there — why wouldn’t I?) Rejected manuscripts. Hastily-finished manuscripts seeking a new market. Nothing wrong with topping and tailing some old stuff and getting it into the system.

But that doesn’t take long. What happens when the cupboard is bare and you have to write everything from scratch? Will you still manage to summon up the energy a year from now if the money’s still just a trickle and the chances of a mainstream publishing contract seem no nearer?

Amanda Hocking. Is a great media story and totally atypical. What happened to Ms Hocking is unlikely to happen to any but a handful of people. Best to believe one of them will not be you. Oh, and Ms Hocking just signed a conventional pub deal too, which is very sensible of her in my view. Again… why wouldn’t you?

. . . .

Visibility. One of the ways authors get known is by appearing in public. Book stores are obviously out as are libraries. Which leaves literary events. Are self-pubbed writers going to get seats on the platform at festivals? One day I guess. But it’s a tough call. Self-pubbers may think their exclusion is down to snobbery. And maybe sometimes it is. But I’ve worked alongside festival organisers and I know how very difficult their job is. Imagine someone saying to them: let’s bring in self-pubbed authors. How on earth do you pick the ones allowed through the gate? And whoever you do pick won’t the others still be hacked off. I wouldn’t want to be the festival organiser dealing with that particular dilemma.

Link to the rest at

Another Use for Twitter – Stealing Ebooks

20 April 2011
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Author David Hewson had a shock when he checked his latest mentions on Twitter.


Like many people in the media I keep track of mentions of my work through a fixed Twitter search pane, in my case through Hootsuite. For the last couple of years this has usually brought up a list of reviews, reader comments and other useful material. When I turn on the Mac this morning I find . . . . All top seventeen search results on my name (more actually but my screen couldn’t accommodate them) are links to ripped off ebooks of my work.

I’ve written about my belief that a significant number of pirates don’t represent lost sales because they never would have paid the price for your book even in the absence of the pirated version. The lower the price you charge, the less likely you’re losing sales.

However, I understand every author’s outrage about people stealing his/her work. One possible response is to report the fraudulent website to The Internet Crime Complaint Center, set up by the FBI and something called the National White Collar Crime Center. There are some forms to fill out and I’m sure this won’t stop the Russian Mafia, but it’s a step.

Link to the rest of David Hewson’s story at (sorry, link appears to be broken)


Another Indie Author Reports Results – Nonfiction vs. Fiction

19 April 2011
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Tracy Marchini reports very early results from two books she self-published, Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms and Effie At The Wedding, a 99-cent YA short story. You’ll remember Tracy from Five Things I’ve Learned By E-publishing.


I’ve heard a lot of feedback from writers that tell me that they would love to buy a copy of Pub Speak, but don’t own an ereader. (I am working now on putting out a softcover edition!)

. . . .

I think that Effie is seeing growth because there is less initial investment from the reader — they like the cover and the blurb, and if they don’t like the story then they just won’t spend another dollar on my work. With Pub Speak, I think it’s a combination of two factors: a.) people still want physical copies of their reference books and b.) it’s not priced for the casual browser.

. . . .

The argument has been that lower pricing will make up for “lost profits” in the long tail. I’m only three weeks in, so I can’t vouch for that personally.

Link to the rest at Tracy Marchini

How to be a Guest Blogger on a Very Big Writing/Publishing Website

19 April 2011
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We all know that the modern author is supposed to blog. See this if you disagree.

One of the challenges for any blog is attracting people to read the blog. Guest blogging on a bigger blog is one way to do this.

Former agent Nathan Bransford operates one of the biggest blogs in the world of publishing. He’s inviting you to audition for the position of guest blogger. If you succeed, zillions of people will come to your blog and Oprah will probably invite you onto her show. (Does she still have one?)

Tip: Passive Guy just made a post on Nathan’s All Things Publishing forum.

Click HERE for more details.

40 Free Tools for Authors

19 April 2011
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I’m a big fan of freeware. I’m not seeking incoming rounds from Mac fans, but when I tried out a Mac several months ago, one of the things that brought me back to Windows was the zillion little freeware programs I use to make my computer operate differently than any other computer in the universe.

Writing is a great realm for freeware. For example, I have a character named Queen Xotherania in a manuscript that’s nearly finished. I use a program called AutoHotkey to type qz and it automatically expands to a properly-spelled and capitalized Queen Xotherania. It took me about 10 seconds to set up the shortcut and repaid my effort by the third time I only had to type qz instead of the real deal. I have at least 50-60 of these shortcuts I use regularly, including some for this blog.

I remember reading that the late political journalist and author William F. Buckley used a similar program for writing dialogue. When he finished a line of dialogue, a couple of keystrokes inserted a period, a quotation mark, a paragraph break, a tab and another quotation mark so he was ready to type the next line of dialogue.

Piotr Kowalczyk doesn’t mention AutoHotkey, but he does list a boatload of free programs for authors broken into the following categories:

Writing and editing – tools, which can help you better write and edit your book
Design – how to easily prepare a cover of a book; go try it, it’s easier than you think
Formats and conversion – tools to convert and prepare books in desired file formats
Publishing – a list of the best self-publishing platforms
Online presence – what you need to effectively promote and sell your books
Reader engagement – tools to engage your readers in your books and writing
Analytics – analyze your writing, sales and effectiveness of online activity

I think you’ll find at least one of Piotr’s programs will help you out.

Here’s the link at TeleRead

Here’s a link to AutoHotkey – The program’s vibe is a little geeky and you can configure it to rule the world if you’re in an obsessive mood, but it’s very easy to create the little shortcut replacements like I use for Queen Xotherania.

PS – I almost published this with the title 40 Free Fools for Authors. That’s an inspiration for a future post.

Self-Publishing a Book Using CreateSpace

19 April 2011
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Author and indie publishing guru Karen McQuestion takes you through the whole process of getting your manuscript ready for CreateSpace POD sales.


How much will it cost to set up my book? There are no set-up fees for your book; before making it available for sale, we do require you to purchase and approve a proof copy of your book. We’ll also provide you with a free CreateSpace ISBN (International Standard Book Number—an identifying number necessary to sell a book commercially) if you don’t already own one.”

I opted for something CreateSpace calls their “Pro Plan,” which allowed me to earn higher royalties and reduces the cost of ordering my own copies. It also allows the book to be part of the expanded distribution plan, which means bookstores and libraries can order it.

This was the breakdown of my costs in producing my children’s book, Celia and the Fairies:

Pro Plan $39.00 (yearly renewal fee of $5.00)

Proof Copy $9.34 ($3.15 for the book plus $6.39 shipping)

Second Proof Copy $9.34 (found an error and had to redo it)

Cover Image $20.00

Paid my daughter to do the cover design $20.00

Total cost: $97.68

. . . .

To create the interior file, the actual pages of the book, I needed to resize my manuscript page to match my chosen trim size. I did this while it was still a Microsoft Word document. After opening the document, I clicked on Page Layout=> then clicked on Size. The program didn’t have my exact size (5.25 x 8 inches), so I found the closest one (5 x 8 inches) and changed the number manually by clicking on it and just typing in the numbers.

I found it easiest to view the manuscript using the “Print Layout” setting, although it’s a personal preference. What you see on the screen is exactly how it will look in the book, so if the print is tiny or the lines look crowded, you’ll want to make adjustments.

Following the format of a traditionally published book, the very first page had the title of the book centered. The second page, which would be the other side of that first page, I left blank.

The third page has the title with the author’s name below it. The fourth page is the back of that page and will be the copyright page, usually with ISBN, but you don’t have that yet, so don’t sweat it.

The fifth page is the dedication page, and the next, the sixth, is again blank.

The seventh page is the actual start of the book. This is where the page numbers will begin. Again, look at a traditionally published book in your genre for guidance in formatting your book. I decided to start about halfway down the page, and to NOT have a chapter heading (i.e. “Chapter One”) for the first chapter. Some books do have a chapter heading for the first chapter; it’s entirely up to you.

Link to the rest at McQuestionable Musings

Five Things I’ve Learned By E-publishing

18 April 2011

Editorial consultant Tracy Marchini published her first ebook, Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms, and learned some important lessons.


1.) You cannot do the cover yourself, unless you happen to be a graphic designer.

There was a brief moment where I thought to myself, “Well, I’m artistic, perhaps I can do my own cover.” Despite the fact that I’ve advised plenty of people to invest in professional cover art, I still spent some time in front of my computer with MS Paint, a sketchbook and a scanner. Luckily, this bout of insanity was short lived, and I accepted that I had to follow my own advice.

. . . .

3.) Self publishing is about the long tail.

In traditional publishing, there is a ton of pre-publication publicity and marketing done which is designed to launch a book as big and fast as possible. High orders from buyers will hopefully propel the book on a best-sellers list before it even hits the shelves, and then it’ll stay on the list and on the shelves because people are paying attention. The book has become popular among consumers, because the publisher made it popular among book buyers. Most books however, will be off the physical shelves within three months, which means an author has a short window of time to keep their book in the bookstores.

In self-publishing, the business model tends to be more of a slow, gradual growth that’s built on a number of successful books. Self published authors should be prepared for the long tail, where the first orders are a spike of friends, family and followers, but the real success comes over a longer period of time. Though most self-published books will never sit on a bookshelf, by self-publishing Pub Speak, I can keep it available for as long as I desire – giving it the time that it needs to grow.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

If you had a problem giving books away free, you would never, ever sell a book to a library

18 April 2011

Nathan Bransford is a bright guy and insightful commentator on all things publishing.

However, I think he misses some important factors in a blog post that went up this morning discussing 99 cent book pricing. Contra my usual format, I’ll insert an excerpt from Nathan first and my thoughts afterwards.


Tragedy of the $0.99s

Thought experiment. Let’s say that everyone sold their books at $0.99. Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, J.A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking… everyone.

What would that publishing world look like?

Well, for one, more books would probably be sold overall. But not an exponentially greater number. There’s an important constraint that limits the number of books that can be sold: readers’ attention.

At the end of the day, there are only so many people in the world who read books and only so much time in the day they spend reading them and so much money they’re willing to spend for them. People do buy a few more books than they end up reading, but not that many more.

So basically in this hypothetical you end up with a situation where no one makes much money per copy sold and a good bulk of the readership that would probably have paid more if they had been required to. Unknown authors would no longer derive a benefit from the discounting.

If you think of discounts as resources, those discounts could end up depleted when the early movers drive down prices, and no one is able to derive benefit from them anymore.

And when book prices are $0.99, there would be still more pressure to give books away for free to try and build an audience. It’s not that hard to envision a price race all the way down to free for debut authors.

Here’s what I think Nathan misses.

In the present US market (and I suspect elsewhere), if you consider the number of times a book is read most of those “readings” generate no revenue for publishers, authors or bookstores. How does this happen? Somewhere authoritative (can’t locate at the moment) I read that two-thirds of all the books people read don’t cost them anything because they’re borrowed from libraries or friends.

If you had a problem giving books away free, you would never, ever sell a book to a library. In fact, you would never sell a printed book to anyone. You would license each book and limit its use to the original purchaser. Every major software company on the planet does this. To be clear, Passive Guy is not advocating this, he’s just demonstrating that Big Publishing gives away most of the “readings” it sells for free.

Absent the type of copyright license I mentioned, a printed book is inherently a delivery mechanism that encourages multiple people to read a given copy of the book. After a single read-through, the book is almost like new. Even the most cheaply-produced paperback is good for 20-25 free reads.

Speaking of the supposed damage 99 cent pricing can do, when Nathan says “there are only so many people in the world who read books,” he’s thinking about books the way publishers think about books – how many physical books go out the door, not how many times people read those books. If J.K. Rowling’s publisher sells a million physical Harry Potter books, it is, in fact, selling several million “readings” of those books. The real “readings” market for Harry Potter books is much, much larger than the number of physical books sold.

Ebooks change the “readings” dynamic in a significant way. Under its present terms, Amazon allows you to lend an ebook you purchase to one person for 14 days, then no more lending. When a Harry Potter ebook sells on Amazon, the publisher is selling no more than 2 “readings.” I would guess that the percentage of Kindle books that are lent is very small, so each sale is pretty close to one reading.

How does this work for pricing? If a library buys a hardcover book for $20 and 100 people check it out before it falls apart, the publisher has sold a “reading” of that book for 20 cents. If Amazon sells one of the 99 cent indie books that worry Nathan so much, the author has sold a reading of that book for pretty close to 99 cents.

But wait, there’s more!

Let’s pull a quote from Nathan and look at it:

[T]here are only so many people in the world who read books and only so much time in the day they spend reading them and so much money they’re willing to spend for them. People do buy a few more books than they end up reading, but not that many more.

This is missing one of the results of disruptive change, including disruptive pricing like 99 cent books.

“People do buy a few more books than they end up reading, but not that many more.” If a book costs $20, you’ll read most of the books you buy. If you buy a steak for $20, you’ll eat most of the steaks you buy. If you buy a hamburger for 99 cents from the dollar menu at McDonalds and it doesn’t taste so good, you throw it away without finishing it. If you’re still hungry, you buy something else off the dollar menu. A 99 cent book is an impulse purchase. You don’t think twice about buying it and not reading it. In fact, hard core Kindle users typically have lots of books they haven’t read on their ereaders.

“only . . .  so much money they’re willing to spend for [books]” Only so much money people are willing to spend for $20 hardcovers is a different thing than only so much money people are willing to spend on 99 cent ebooks. First of all, if the budget is the same and strictly followed, instead of buying one printed book, the purchaser buys 20 ebooks.

But study after study of consumer behavior shows that people underestimate how much they spend on impulse-priced items they consume regularly. 99 cent ebooks are like potato chips. If one tastes good, you eat ten more. It’s easier to pry 99 cents out of a consumer’s pocket twenty times than it is to get them to spend $20 once.

Even the Arabs are disrupting! With $4.00 gas, you may be able to buy a 99 cent ebook cheaper than you can drive to the library.

Let’s return one more time to Nathan’s quote, “[T]here are only so many people in the world who read books.” How big is the market for English language ebooks? I blogged about an estimate that Mike Schatzkin quoted: “the world has 600 million native English speakers and 1.4 billion English speakers in other countries. If that were true, the US would have less than a sixth of the total within its boundaries.”

With physical books, there are country rights and long traditions of high prices for foreign books in many different countries around the world. With ebooks, in five minutes, I could show anybody with an internet connection anywhere in the world how to connect with Amazon US in a way that made it look like they lived in Iowa and download those 99 cent ebooks. No waiting, no VAT, no government-enforced prices on printed books, just a bunch of disruptive electrons squirting all over the place.

Link to Nathan Bransford Author

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