Monthly Archives: March 2014

Author Myths

31 March 2014

From suspense writer Russell Blake:

I hear ‘em all the time in chat groups and forums, and they drive me nuts. Author myths.

. . . .

1) Books Sell Themselves. No, sweetie, they don’t, at all, and never did. That’s why trad pubs spend massively on promotions. Because they know that visibility sells books, not invisible cosmic forces or author brilliance. It’s a highly competitive market with millions of choices, and it’s a retail market, and in retail, visibility is key. Which means constant promotion. Which most authors hate. But it’s reality, so get used to the idea. A companion to this aphorism is the next one…

2) Just write the next one. Sure, if you want to have two undiscovered gems instead of one. Look, writing the next one’s important, but not if it’s used to justify not promoting the last one, which is often the case. You have to both market the last one AND write the next one. Sorry. You do.

. . . .

4) Do everything right and you’ll make it. Huh. If that were so, every book put out by big pubs would do well. The vast majority don’t. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do everything right, unless you want to worsen your already slim odds rather than improving them.

Link to the rest at Russell Blake and thanks to Eric for the tip.

I still remember the day

31 March 2014

I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.

First line of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

What Seems To Be the Problem Here?

31 March 2014

From N+1

I’ve worked in book publishing for most of my adult life; currently I run an online bookstore called Emily Books specializing in the kind of women’s writing that’s typically labeled “difficult.” My business partner is my best friend. Most of my other friends and coworkers are also involved, directly or otherwise, in the writing, publication, and sale of books. When we talk about Amazon an uneasy pall falls over the room, as if we’ve invoked a monstrous, evil entity—Pol Pot or Exxon Mobil or King Joffrey Baratheon, the Ill-Born Usurper of Westeros (lifetime Amazon rank of A Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin: 14). Amazon’s cutthroat pricing schemes, commanding control of the book marketplace, and experiments with bundling and the publication of original material directly threaten our livelihoods, such as they are.

. . . .

As an independent bookseller, and as a reader, and as a person, this worries me. On the other hand, I realize that a consumer without a dog—and by “dog” I mean “an unnaturally strong and cherished connection to the written word”—in this particular fight might have no stronger response than a shrug at the prospect of Total Domination. Most of us, understandably, are more concerned with economics on the personal scale of budgets and paychecks and debt and less interested in economics on the corporate scale of interstate commerce or monopolies or taxable presences. Amazon’s violation of the spirit (if not the letter) of American tax and anti-monopoly laws is abstract; one’s rent, phone bill, spending money, student loan payments, a lot less so. And Amazon is very good at addressing economics on a personal scale: their stuff is cheap and there’s a lot of it. One-click purchasing (which Amazon pioneered), low prices, endless inventory, and incredibly fast shipping have made it a company that reported $61 billion in sales last year and a 60 percent increase in stock value over the first half of 2013. The frequently cited fact that Amazon rarely turns a profit in a given quarter is mostly beside the point: if they didn’t spend so much money on building infrastructure for their future new world order, the company would be plenty profitable. And, as The Everything Store makes clear, Amazon doesn’t have to be profitable to become the only significant retailer doing business in many major product categories. Once it’s done that, prices will go up.  Why would they not? Where one falls on this question, I think, depends on whether or not you think the check for the actual cost of merchandise we’ve grown accustomed to purchasing at artificially low prices is ever going to be dropped on the metaphorical table, and who’s going to have to pony up their Visa.

. . . .

There’s a fundamental problem with bookselling as a business: put bluntly, it’s that people aren’t really into buying books. Bezos discovered this via a 1998 survey that found most shoppers didn’t use and probably never would, because—well—Americans buy very few books. This is the part of the story where some booksellers, like me and my partner, might begin wishing we had done something else with our lives, but Bezos was unfazed. Instead he turned his attention to other products easily sold via mail, and shortly thereafter Amazon expanded into music and DVDs.

. . . .

Then, in 2007, Amazon released the Kindle. The new device was made possible by the relatively recent advent of widespread wireless technology; the development of magnetic e-ink, which made the screen readable without a backlight, and the fact that in the years before, Amazon had leveraged its market power to convince publishers to digitize their back catalogs. When the Kindle launched, publishers didn’t see why an ebook should cost any less than a physical book, and set the price at the same as the hardcover—typically, around $26. With the standard 50 percent discount, this meant the publishers would charge sellers $13. Bezos set the sticker price of most ebooks at $9.99, meaning that every time Amazon sold an ebook, he lost $3. For a while, publishers chuckled, but then they grew frightened. What did Bezos have up his sleeve? Amazon could afford to sell ebooks at a loss, but the availability of a cheaper ebook edition meant publishers lost money on their most profitable format (the hardcover) and small booksellers could not compete at all. Amazon no longer adheres to the $9.99 ebook price point as a rule, but the standard had been set, and the company only grew more powerful as the popularity of the ebook format increased. Holiday 2013 sales of the Nook, Barnes & Noble’s answer to the Kindle, fell 60.5 percent compared to 2012 holiday sales. Borders—initially one of the Big Bad, along with Waterstones and Barnes & Noble—went out of business in 2011, and Barnes & Noble is expected to follow any day now.

. . . .

Emily Books, the online feminist bookstore I run with my best friend, was started as an attempt to create a tiny, but serious, competitor to Amazon. To our surprise, the publishers who will talk in private about how much they hate Amazon did not want to do business with us. When I approached the VP of what I’ll generously call the “Digital Development” department of one of these publishers about selling one of her books via Emily Books, she was dismissive. She won’t do business with retailers who can’t offer digital rights protection (DRM), she explained. OK, I said, that software is far too expensive for most independent booksellers, and for Kindle devices, it’s proprietary to Amazon. What sort of non-Amazon branded digital protection would they require? Was there a viable workaround, an alternative? What if we were able to come up with something? As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized how stupid they were. Surely such a thing—an Amazon workaround!—would be incredibly, obviously valuable.  Surely many people far smarter and wealthier than me were working day and night on it. Well, the Digital Developer reiterated, acknowledging my gaffe by speaking as if to a very slow child, they would need the software required for a Kindle. Never mind that these arbitrary criteria exclude basically all retailers who are not Amazon, never mind that DRM does little to prevent a determined book pirate, never mind that a real-life retailer was literally asking for her business, money on the table. It’s rare to witness someone line up such a perfect shot to their own foot, unless you work in publishing, I guess.

. . . .

But it turns out the way to build the world’s most successful bookstore has nothing to do with knowing your customers or recommending the “best” books or even making money, and everything to do with developing software, recruiting investors, and hiring a bunch of people who used to work at Walmart. This is not news I can use, but it explains the odd mixture of relief and nihilism I felt. Jeff Bezos both created and dominated the industry of his choice, online retail. His success has all but ensured the failure of anyone else who wants to sell not just books but consumer goods of any kind, and I wonder how many corporate biographies will be possible after this one.

Link to the rest at N+1 and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Grumble, grumble, whine, whine. Making excuses and predicting doom for all that is good and right about Big Publishing and book selling makes losing to Amazon a foregone conclusion.

It is interesting that Big Pub’s ignorant worship of DRM squeezes out potential competitors to Amazon.

But back to the bigger picture – How many times did Jeff Bezos hear that Wal-Mart would squash Amazon like a bug whenever Bentonville turned its sights on ecommerce? A bazillion at least.

But now, with Amazon growing by leaps and bounds, the tradpub world sees nothing but the end of corporate biographies in the future.

At heart, Amazon is a tech company. If anybody in Big Publishing had the slightest knowledge of the technology world other than the headlines they read in The New York Times, they would understand that Compaq was once where Amazon is in the public imagination. So was IBM in personal computers and Lotus and Microsoft and Hewlett Packard. PG thinks Apple has passed its point of maximum influence and value and will be much less impressive in three years than it is now.

Staying on top of the slippery pole that is the consumer-oriented tech biz is a hard, hard thing to do. So hard, nobody has managed to do it for very long since the invention of the personal computer and the internet.

PG says Amazon will slide down that pole some day. Not today or tomorrow or next year, but some day.

Of course, in PG’s opinion, traditional publishers will disappear before Amazon does and that’s pretty much what all these articles are about. Not that Amazon will destroy the world, but that Amazon will destroy their world.


When You Are Your Own Publisher

31 March 2014

From ebook designer and TPV regular JW Manus:

I get a lot of emails from people who are just starting out with self-publishing. For the most part I enjoy the conversations. Self-publishing isn’t all that difficult to do, but there is so much information available, so many options, it can be confusing as hell. I like to think I’ve set a few folks on a path that lessens the confusion and takes some of the mystery out of the process.

What I don’t enjoy are the emails that sound fueled by panic. I fear for the panicky folks–fear sets them up to be taken advantage of by overpriced “services” and vanity presses. These folks are easily led to believe that ebook conversion is too hard for less-than-technical geniuses and that distributing ebooks is worth an upfront fee and annual charges on top of retailer commissions. They are desperate for someone to take care of them–and taken they do get.

. . . .

The subtext is, “I am terrified of not doing this perfectly and so I need someone else to take responsibility.”

I’ve yet to see a perfect book–and I’ve read thousands. I’ve yet to see a perfect publisher. But that’s okay. Readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for entertainment and information and education. Publishers–self or otherwise–have a duty to those readers to give them the best value in exchange for their time and money. That doesn’t have to be perfect.

So let’s talk about the reality. When you are your own publisher, you’re in charge. Period. The book is yours. YOU decide how it is written. YOU decide how much editing is required. YOU decide on the packaging and formatting. YOU decide how much to charge and where and how to distribute. YOU broker deals for rights and editions and exclusivity or not.

. . . .

How does one get over the fear? First and foremost is realizing that with the great responsibility of self-publishing also comes almost unlimited freedom. Part of that freedom involves “do-overs.” If you screw something up–the editing, the cover, the distribution, the price–do it over and do it better. You don’t get that luxury if you turn your responsibilities over to someone else.

Link to the rest at JW Manus and thanks to Julia for the tip.

J.K. Rowling to pen three ‘Harry Potter’ spin-off movies

31 March 2014

From the Daily News:

Muggles, rejoice! More wizarding movies are on the way.

J.K. Rowling has teamed up with Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara to write three new films based on the world of Harry Potter.

. . . .

The main character of the trilogy will be Newt Scamander, a “magizoologist.” The spin-off will be set before Potter’s adventures.

Link to the rest at the Daily News and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Tim Waterstone ‘predicts e-book decline’

31 March 2014

From the BBC:

Tim Waterstone, the founder of the Waterstone’s book shop chain, has predicted that the “e-book revolution” will soon go into decline in the UK.

He told the Oxford Literary Festival printed books would remain popular for decades, the Daily Telegraph reported.

“E-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have,” he said.

“But every indication – certainly from America – shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK.”

For the first eight months of 2013, e-book sale were worth $800m in the US, down 5% on the same period the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Meanwhile, hardback book sales rose 11.5%.

. . . .

Mr Waterstone added: “The [physical] product is so strong, the interest in reading is so deeply rooted in the culture and human soul of this country that it is immovable.

“The traditional, physical book is hanging on. I’m absolutely sure we will be here in 40 years’ time.”

And from The Telegraph:

The so-called e-book “revolution” will soon go into decline, the founder of Waterstones has said, insisting that the traditional physical book is here to stay.

Tim Waterstone, who founded the bookshop chain in 1982, argued that the printed word was far from dead and Britain’s innate love of literature had made books one of the most successful consumer products ever.

He added that he had heard and read “more garbage about the strength of the e-book revolution than anything else I’ve known”.

. . . .

He joked that insiders were generally “apocalyptic” about the the book industry’s prospects but said he refused to believe the traditional physical book was under threat.

. . . .

Speaking about the longevity of the printed word, Mr Waterstone said: “Print on paper has lasted for centuries. It’s one of the most wonderful, really successful consumer products of all time.

“The book has probably had the strongest compound growth rate since the Second World War than any other consumer product. The compound growth rate since 1945 is around 5.2 per cent. Compound, right the way through to 2013.

“The product is so strong, the interest in reading is so deeply rooted in the culture and human soul of this country that it is immovable.”

Link to the rest at the BBC and The Telegraph and thanks to Joshua and many others for the tip.

4 Cliche Things Every Dystopian Young Adult Movie Does

31 March 2014

From Cracked:

This year, fans of the young adult dystopian film genre will have four different movies from four different franchises playing in theaters. Besides the second Hunger Games, there’s Divergent, Maze Runner, and The Giver, all based on novels from the same section of your local Books-A-Million. But don’t worry if you can’t afford to watch all of them — if you’ve seen one, you can guess how the others go.

. . . .

#4. Every Movie Begins With Youngsters in Drab Clothing Riding Trains

Apart from the love triangles and the overabundance of grayscale, the first surefire sign that you’re about to watch YA dystopian sci-fi is to have a bunch of forlorn-looking teens standing around, all wearing the same grim clothes.

. . . .

Heaven forbid they fly to their destinations, which might cut down on the two-and-a-half-hour runtime all of these movies insist on having.

. . . .

#1. All of the Authors Are Pyromaniacs



Link to the rest at Cracked and thanks to Shantnu for the tip.

Is Kindle Countdown the new Free? Keeping books visible in 2014

30 March 2014

From author and regular TPV visitor M. Louisa Locke:

For the past year there has been a good deal of hand-wringing over the question of KDP Select free promotions. Have they de-valued fiction, do they attract negative reviews, do they even work anymore? As anyone who regularly reads my blog posts knows, I have been a strong proponent of offering ebooks free for promotional purposes, and free promotions have been very good to me in terms of increasing my reviews and keeping my books visible and selling.

However, I also believe one of the distinct advantages we have as indie authors is our ability to use our own sales data to respond innovatively to changes in the marketing environment. As a result, in the past year I followed a number of different strategies to keep the books in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series visible, including beginning to experiment with the new promotional tool, theKindle Countdown, that has been introduced as part of KDP Select.

. . . .

Conclusions: 1) Free promotions are still very effective under certain circumstances. In fact, the BookBub-backed promotion of Maids of Misfortune in May 2013 was slightly more effective than the November 2012 promotion of this book in terms of total downloads, increased visibility, and long-term increase in sales. 2) This didn’t hold true with all books under all circumstances. For example, my free promotions without a BookBub ad had no significant effects on subsequent sales, and the first book in my series consistently did better in subsequent sales (not in total downloads) than the sequel. 3) Because BookBub is expensive, doesn’t accept every book, and now will only promote a book every six months, authors, myself included, need to continue to look at alternative methods of keeping our books visible. Which is where the Kindle Countdown becomes important.

. . . .

October 31, 2013, KDP announced its Kindle Countdown option for books enrolled in KDP Select. This confirmed my feeling that Amazon was systematically nudging indie authors away from depending on free as a promotional tool. I am not going to describe the details of the program, but I am going to report on the four Kindle Countdown promotions I have done so far and draw some conclusions about how they compare to KDP Select free promotions. Since I was experimenting, each Kindle Countdown I did went for a slightly different number of days and used different combinations of promotional ads. However, in all of them I kept the price at 99 cents throughout the promotion. The data also just represents sales in the US store, since my sales in the UK store remained minimal in all the promotions (even the one that was backed by BookBub).

. . . .

1. Based on post-promotional sales, free-book promotions are definitely superior to a Kindle Countdown 99 cent sale (at least at this point in time). Not only did the KDP Select free promotions increase the sales of the promoted book, but they also increased the sales of the other books in the series. In comparison, Kindle Countdown promotions had weaker and less consistent effects on post promotional sales of all books.

. . . .

2. Kindle Countdown promotions—like free promotions––do have a positive effect on increasing the number of reviews. But again, as one would expect, the difference in volume between the two kinds of promotions will have an impact. Nevertheless, I must note that my Kindle Countdown promotions produced a greater number of reviews than I anticipated.

. . . .

3. While Kindle Countdowns are not as effective at this point in producing sales after the promotion, at least you make some sales (and money) during the promotion. For people who have used free-book promotions and then had negligible post-promotional sales, this can make a Kindle Countdown a less risky proposition.

Link to the rest at M. Louisa Locke and thanks to Carol for the tip.

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