The Unexpectedly Long Life of an eBook

21 November 2014

From author and TPV regular Catherine Czerkawska:

The Curiosity Cabinet started out as a trilogy of plays for  BBC Radio 4 back in the 1990s. Later, I rewrote it, with significant changes, as a novel but it took a very long time to find a publisher. It was some time in the late 90s, when I was looking for a new agent, that one of them called it ‘a library novel fit only for housewives.’ I wasn’t a newcomer in any sense. I had a long and occasionally award winning career as a playwright, as well as two published novels and plenty of non fiction behind me, so I could laugh it off.

But it still stung a bit.

Eventually, I secured representation at one of the bigger London agencies. My new agent told me that she liked the novel, but she thought it was ‘too quiet’ to sell.  Nevertheless, she sent it out to the big boys. I forget how many there were back then – certainly a few more than the current Big Five, but all the same, amalgamations were rife and the so called mid-list was definitely on the slide. Agents and publishers were already talking about the ‘decline of the mid-list’. One even cheerfully predicted the ‘death of the mid-list’. I knew in my sinking heart that I was a typical mid-lister. It was an invidious position to find yourself in. Back then, anyway. One of the acquisitions editors who responded pointed out that although she liked the book, they had ‘published something similar and it did less well than expected.’ Most of them said that although they liked the novel they ‘couldn’t carry sales and marketing with them.’ Or they ‘liked it but didn’t love it.’

Nobody wanted it.

Eventually, my agent suggested that while I got on with something a bit less quiet, I should submit the novel to a newish competition: the Dundee Book Prize. It seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t doing anything else with it, after all. Some time after the closing date for entries, I got a phone call. My novel had been shortlisted. Would I come to an event aboard The Discovery in Dundee, when an announcement would be made? The reception and dinner aboard Captain Scott’s polar exploration ship was very pleasant. We soon realised that the shortlist consisted of only three books, three authors. And at the dinner, we were happy to discover that all three of us would be offered a publishing contract although only one novel would win the big cash prize.

The Curiosity Cabinet didn’t, in fact, win that overall prize but it was published. That was in 2005. I seem to remember that the print run involved only 1000 trade paperback copies, albeit nicely done. There were one or two speaking engagements including the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and a three for two offer in a big chain bookstore. I remember all the excitement of seeing my book in several shop windows. But because the publisher was marketing these completely different novels and their authors as a threesome, we didn’t get much publicity. I sent a review copy to a popular Scottish TV presenter who gave me a ringing endorsement for the cover. ‘How did you do that?’ my publisher asked. The truth was that I had simply asked nicely, but I got the sense that their approval of the publicity was warring just a wee bit with their disapproval of such populism. A Scottish women’s magazine serialised it. They made an excellent job of the abridgement and paid handsomely.

The run sold out within the year and … that was that. There was no sign of a reprint. My agent told me that (to her surprise as well as mine because the relationship to that point had been friendly) the publisher had declined to look at anything else from me. My work didn’t fit in with the way they saw the company progressing. Eventually, I reclaimed my rights – a process which, to give them credit, they made remarkably easy. But I soon found out that in the world of traditional publishing it is far better to be a new discovery than to be a writer who has been rejected by her publisher.

. . . .

I think what really kept me going through that dark time was the response of readers. I was still being invited to give talks and readings, and people were always asking me how they could get hold of my books, where they might find more of my work. The problem was that they couldn’t. It was in computer files and printouts and a handful of out-of-print copies. There was a lot of it. I still remember the mingled pleasure and pain of hearing a friend – an enthusiastic reader – say to me, ‘You know, we don’t understand how this could happen. We love your writing, we want to read more of it and we think you’ve been treated very shabbily.’ Pity is never easy to accept but the emails I got from other readers, complete strangers, said much the same thing. ‘Haven’t you written any more fiction and why can’t we read it?’

. . . .

And then, along came Jeff Bezos and Amazon and Kindle Direct Publishing.

It wasn’t at all hard to decide to take my career into my own hands. In fact it seemed ridiculously easy. I had nothing at all to lose. My only regret was that it hadn’t happened sooner. I had been searching for something like this for years and had never been able to find it: a business partner who would facilitate distribution and let me get on with it, leaving the control of it in my own hands.

. . . .

So what happened after I began my self publishing venture? Well, since 2011 when I published it as an eBook, The Curiosity Cabinet has sold more copies than I would have believed possible. And it just keeps rolling along. I’m not making any fortunes from this and my other books – yet. But they add a small but healthy sum to my income every month. As I write this, the Curiosity Cabinet has undergone another spike in sales and in its category on Amazon here in the UK is sitting at #9.

. . . .

Most of all, for me, the Curiosity Cabinet illustrates the potential long life of an eBook. For my publisher at the time, it was over and done within the year (as was the writer!) It seems they must always be moving on to the next project and their next project didn’t involve my kind of novel at all. I’m forced to the conclusion that it was, for them, a sound business decision. But it wasn’t my decision and as it turns out, it wasn’t right for me or for this book either.

The fact remains that there are readers out there who still seem to want to read it. Lots of them.

Link to the rest at Wordarts

Here’s a link to Catherine Czerkawska’s books

Self-publishing’s vices and virtues

21 November 2014

From The Guardian:

Almost any discussion of self-publishing seems to attract an immediate hostility quite unlike the amused tolerance that greets those who, say, exhibit their indifferent watercolours, or seek to try out their wine-making skills on their friends. The discussion (I would hesitate to call it a debate) invariably and speedily descends to consideration of the literary merits of 50 Shades of Grey (whose author in any case disputes that it ever was self-published).

A report of research I presented to a recent publishing conference, challenging misapprehensions as to what sort of people are now self-publishing, provoked just such a lively correspondence. Of those interviewed for my study, 65% of self-publishers were women. Nearly two-thirds were aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half were in full-time employment, 32% had a degree and 44% a higher degree. According to my research, self-publishers tend predominantly to be educated and busy, and not self-publishing in retirement, bitter from a lifetime’s disappointment from the traditional industry.

. . . .

It is certainly true that many self-published books are not very good, but having been involved in academic research into the sector for the past five years I have come up with three main reasons why I think the output includes so much tosh – and also a case for a cultural value that is less easy to quantify.

. . . .

3. Success is not defined by the number of books downloaded or sold

Many authors, contrary to Salierei’s belief, are making money. Self-publishingauthors tend not to get in included in surveys of authors’ earnings, but Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, says: “Many of the association’s members are earning significant salaries now. I’m not talking here about the outliers, like the Kindle millionaires, but the many who are earning enough to leave their day jobs, feed their families, pay their mortgage, afford comforts and luxuries. And let us not forget that sales doesn’t just equal money, it equals readers. It’s one of my great delights to witness what this does for their confidence in themselves and in their work.”

The business model is also changing. Traditional publishing was a bit like a fishing game I owned as a child, with a stand-up cardboard frame and a rod for each player with a magnet on the end. Fish lay inside (and sometimes outside) the box, each accessorised with a corresponding magnet and waiting to be picked up – and provided you were in the right box, or close to it, you were usually found. Publishing worked in a similar way, from a scarcity model grounded in commercial principles, selecting titles to be published and protecting their value with copyright. Ross again: “Now we are working from an abundance model, grounded in creative principles. Excess and redundancy are no cause for concern. This is how nature, the fundamental model for all creativity, works: [it takes] a lot of acorns to get one baby oak. A lot of sperm miss out on the egg.”

. . . .

There are signs now that self-publishing is turning a corner – at last being seen as part of publishing in general. At its best it offers the traditional industry a new source of writing talent and a chance to take on material with readerships already established. In the process, it cultivates the kind of author proactivity that publishers need if they are to reach markets that are no longer predictable, due both to the proliferation of new media and the challenge to reading of so many other alternative leisure activities.

But it also allows people to create products that bring huge personal pride, even if they include a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Bridget for the tip.

Publishers don’t take ‘disproportionate profit’

19 November 2014

From The Bookseller:

Publishers are not taking a disproportionate amount of profit from book sales, Little, Brown’s c.e.o. Ursula Mackenzie has said, and it is important that they remain healthy.

Speaking at a Society of Authors (SoA) panel on hybrid authors, Mackenzie defended publishers from criticism by audience members that they now only take on books that will make money.

“Every book can’t make money,” she said. “There are careers we support for years…there are many books we publish lovingly where we don’t make money.”

. . . .

Little, Brown has a “fair rate for our e-books”, said Mackenzie, although fellow panellist Lizzy Kremer, literary agent and head of the books department at David Higham Associates, said that e-book royalty rates were not satisfactory.

“We don’t think the royalty rate is high enough, but we fought tooth and nail to get it that high,” said Kremer.

. . . .

The panel, which included author Ed James, who has self-published and has now signed a deal with Amazon Publishing imprint Thomas and Mercer, and was chaired by The Bookseller’s editor Philip Jones, also discussed e-book prices.

Kremer said one of the benefits of self-publishing was the access to data, which means that self-published authors could easily change the prices of their books to boost sales.

. . . .

Mackenzie said the increase in self-publishing had resulted in publishers having to justify and explain their roles, echoing a speech she gave to the Society of Young Publishers (SYP), and said that one of the results was that publishers were “all developing author portals” to provide writers and agents with data.

On pay, traditionally published authors are “accustomed” to being paid royalties twice a year, said Kremer, which is the “pay off” of being paid an advance. James said one of the benefits of self-publishing was the regular royalty payments.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

In Europe, Slower Growth for e-Books

18 November 2014

From The New York Times:

E-books have made impressive inroads into the English-reading world, but their success in Europe — even among wealthy, tech-savvy countries with robust publishing industries — remains spotty at best. In the United States and Britain, sales of e-books represent between a quarter and a third of the consumer book market and, by 2018, will edge out printed and audio books as the most lucrative segment, according to projections by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. But the picture is radically different in continental Europe. Last year, digital books made up 8 percent of the consumer book market in France, less than 4 percent in Germany and Italy, and 1 percent in Sweden and Norway.

. . . .

The reasons for Europe’s slow embrace of e-books vary from country to country, said Rüdiger Wischenbart, a publishing analyst based in Vienna who studies emerging e-book markets. In the case of Sweden, he said, e-books are popular, but are mostly lent out for free through the library system. In France and many other European countries, Mr. Wischenbart said, there is a cultural attachment to print that’s hard for readers and publishers to shake. “When you read a book, you define yourself as being part of a cultural elite, and that elite is very conservative,” he said. “They don’t want their high status to be undermined by some new gadget.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

50 Shades and the new queens of self-publishing

18 November 2014

From The Independent:

New academic research has shown that, far from the stereotype of the eccentric hobbyist scribbling away in the garden shed, most self-published authors are now well-educated professionals in their 40s and 50s.

As the Fifty Shades of Grey effect continues, with a movie version of the bonkbuster starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson on its way to cinemas here, more and more middle-aged women, in particular, are following in the footsteps of EL James by putting pen to paper and publishing the resulting manuscript themselves, it found.

Nearly two-thirds of all self-publishers are aged 41 to 60, according to the research by Alison Baverstock, an associate professor in publishing at Kingston University; the vast majority – 65pc – are women, and 44pc have a higher degree.

Flogging more than 100 million books worldwide, James, said Baverstock, is proof self-publishers “really know their audiences”, and that traditional publishers “are not necessarily in touch with popular taste”.

. . . .

Despite being approached by two well-known Irish publishers about her first young adult fiction novel, Lydia decided to release the title online through Kindle Direct Publishing, followed by a print edition last year.

“Basically I got impatient with trying to publish it the traditional way,” explains the 43-year-old. “I went from trying for a year and a half to get it published to becoming a published author overnight.

“I’m a bit of a Luddite, so I presumed wrongly it would be incredibly difficult – but it was so easy. I just wrote my book in [Microsoft] Word format, created an Amazon account and literally uploaded my file.

“It doesn’t cost anything, and you get between 35pc and 75pc [of sales] depending on the region.”

. . . .

With self-published books now representing 31pc of ebook sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store however, for many writers, going it alone is no longer just an indulgence.

Having gone from published author to self-published author, mum-of-one Marisa Mackle knows all about what it takes to become a bestseller under your own steam.

With the help of a publisher, her debut novel Mr Right For Night sold 4,000 copies in two weeks when it was released here back in 2002. Self-published on Amazon nine years later, it knocked Fifty Shades of Grey off the top of the book charts in Germany.

“Normally, when you have that kind of success with a publisher, you stay with them,” explains Marisa (41) from Dublin. “But I just wasn’t happy. I couldn’t choose the cover and only found out when the book was being published on Amazon. There’s constant pressure: ‘How are you getting on?’ ‘Are you nearly finished?’ As a self-published author, there’s also terrible pressure, but at least it’s my own pressure.

“Being a No1 bestseller in Ireland, you may as well be working in McDonalds,” she adds. “When I was with a publisher, I got 6pc [in royalties] – now I get 70pc.

“Some writers will be horrified by this, but for me, selling a book is like selling a bar of soap. There’s no point publishing a book if only your mother is going to buy it.”

Link to the rest at The Independent

Campaign group launches Amazon Christmas boycott

18 November 2014

From The Bookseller:

Amazon Anonymous has raised £7,000 for a campaign urging people not to shop with Amazon this Christmas.

The campaign group is asking people to sign up to its Amazon Free Challenge, where customers boycott shopping with Amazon from the 1st to the 25th of December to show the retailer that: “if they don’t pay their workers or pay their fair share of tax, we won’t pay them”.

The group said instead it would help shoppers find more ethical alternatives to buy their Christmas presents from.

“Amazon claims to be the world’s most ‘customer-centric’ company, but tens of thousands of us disagree,” the group said. “Amazon can and should be a better company by treating their workers, society and other businesses fairly. So let’s use our consumer power against them and support shops more deserving of our cash this Christmas.”

. . . .

An email from the group last week asked for supporters to pledge money to keep the campaign going, which has already raised £7,000. “So far, the Amazon Anonymous campaign has been coordinated by a small group of volunteers, working in our spare time and paying any costs out of our own pockets,” the email said. “But now we want to step up the campaign for Christmas and for that we are asking if you can chip in with a bit of cash to help make them a reality.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says, in the US, much of this type of anti-Amazon boycott links back to a labor union that often remains anonymous. The purpose is to pressure Amazon into acquiescing to organizing the workers in its warehouses. He’s not certain if the same pattern appears elsewhere, but suspects it may.

Book readers don’t want subscription

17 November 2014

From The Bookseller:

Penguin Random House’s c.e.o. Tom Weldon has said the company will not be exploring subscription, as he not convinced it is what readers want.

Weldon, in conversation with The Bookseller‘s editor Philip Jones at today’s FutureBook conference, said PRH UK is betting on three things for the future – books, kids and new ways of connecting authors and readers.

“The format of books isn’t the challenge posed by digital,” Weldon said. “The challenge is about how you get noticed and how you get paid. If you have the very best books and authors of every kind, and publishers and editors, there is a chance you’re going to stand out.”

. . . .

Weldon said: “We have two problems with subscription. We are not convinced it is what readers want. ‘Eat everything you can’ isn’t a reader’s mindset. In music or film you might want 10,000 songs or films, but I don’t think you want 10,000 books.”

. . . .

Weldon said that PRH’s focus was on great content, and on obtaining IP, particularly in the growth area of children’s, and on getting readers to connect with its books and authors, but that he didn’t mind where readers bought books from.

“We are not betting on becoming a retailer,” he said. “It is naive and arrogant to think Penguin Random House could become a retailer.”

Weldon cited companies such as Google, Barnes & Noble, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, and said if they were struggling to succeed in the e-book market, PRH would also struggle.

. . . .

Part of the book ecosystem are self-published authors, whom Weldon said complemented the rest of the industry, and voices from new media, such as YouTuber Zoella, whose first fiction title will be released this month by Penguin.

“I bet you Zoella will be number one this Christmas,” said Weldon.

Questioned on author earnings by Jones, Weldon said that PRH was always looking at how much authors were being compensated, but for the moment the 25% digital royalty rate would not be changed.

“Authors are, alongside readers, the foundation of our business,” he said. “We are always, always looking at our commercial arrangements with authors to make sure they’re fair and equitable. With e-book royalties, firstly and most importantly, the business model is as clear as mud. Rather than arguing about what slice of the cake we should distribute, we need to work out how big the cake should be.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Publishers, entertainment providers are your competitors

14 November 2014

From The Bookseller:

Publishers have “got to figure out who their competitors are” and “putting your head in the sand is not an option” author George Berkowski has told the Futurebook Conference.

In a challenging start to the day, Berkowski, the first speaker up at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Hall in London and author of How To Build A Billion Dollar App (Little, Brown), said publishers needed to focus on other entertainment companies as their main rivals, not other publishing houses.

. . . .

“You are not in the same industry, but the people who are reading Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games are the same people sat on the tube reading Buzzfeed and every day. You have got to figure out who your competitors are. They are not the big five. They are not the independent publishers. They are the people trying to get people’s attention and doing it in a flashy way, with whizzbang and candy floating over your screen.”

. . . .

“With Little, Brown, my publisher, I was amazed to find there was no real analytics in your industry, you guys find out once a week or once a quarter. Imagine if you could see what people are reading and buying now.”

Berkowski also said publishers should work on how to “seduce” readers better with “free models” and he also recommended they employ more smart creatives because “a  bunch of English majors sitting in a room are never going to build a great app.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon Opens Dutch Website

13 November 2014

From NLTimes:

The American online store Amazon has finally arrived in the Netherlands. From Wednesday e-books and Kindle e-readers will be available from their Dutch site.

According to Amazon management, the product range primarily consists of more than 20 thousand Dutch e-books, in addition to a catalog of over 3 million books in other languages. The apps and e-readers from Amazon will also be available in the Dutch language.

The internet giant hopes to distinguish themselves mainly with its devices and the features of its apps. Amazon does not expect to make a big difference on the price of e-books. “In most cases the price of a book is determined by the publisher or author”, says Jorrit van der Meulen, head of the Amazon hardware department.

. . . .

According to Ezequiel Szafir, head of Amazon Europe, the talks with publishers in the Netherlands have gone smoothly. In his words the Dutch book world is modern “and has embraced digital publishing early compared to other countries. So were ready and responded well.” Szafir says that they worked together with all the major publishers and most bestsellers can be found on Amazon.

Link to the rest at NLTimes

Amazon takes Tesco’s spot on top of UK entertainment market

11 November 2014

From Digital Journal:

The American-based online retailer Amazon surged past its rival Tesco during the third quarter of this year. The period, which ended with September, saw Amazon holding 22.5 percent of the entertainment market.

. . . .

Tesco, had its sales drop by 5.5 percent, but held on to the second spot with a 15 percent market share. HMV, trying to reclaim its title of Britain’s biggest entertainment retailer, came in third at 12.3 percent.

The three month period between July and September saw Amazon increase sales by nearly 5 percent in the UK market, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel.

Fiona Keenan, strategic insight director with Amazon, told the Guardian, “Thanks to the rise of connected devices – 71% of individuals now own a smartphone and 57% own a tablet – this is a shift that we expect to continue. Amazon’s range of Fire tablets has given it another platform to promote its offering directly to consumers, and it appears to be working, as 15% of entertainment products sold on its site are purchased on a tablet.”

The entertainment market is very valuable to major retailers, with more than 18 million consumers expected to purchase music, DVDs and games during the holiday season.

Link to the rest at Digital Journal

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