Using Kickstarter

Spacewalk on Gemini flight, from NASA
Spacewalk on Gemini flight, from NASA….For some taking the plunge into self publishing, the first step may be a bit  like spacewalking

Taking The Plunge

It’s a constantly changing and strange world for those who have not yet broken into traditional publishing and are now considering a try at doing it themselves. Roughly speaking, authors have been self-publishing e-books for over 10 years now with the bulk of online activity coming within the last five. For the most part, Amazon has been the main place to post your e-book, but other venues such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and Sony have been around almost as long. Following is a quick survey of some things that you might encounter if you decide to self-publish.

Content

Not only do you have to have content that is of a high quality, but also your written material must be in demand by those who are willing to purchase and read an e-book. This might sound like a no-brainer to many writers, but keep in mind that there is a lot of well-written, highly-conceived material that receives little attention by readers. In other words, to draw the interest of readers you have to hit the right chord that will make that person purchase your e-book. This is just as true for the short story priced at 99 cents, as it is for the full-sized novel that runs in the ten dollar range.

The Writer Glut

As time goes on, literary sales to owners of electronic reading devices may become more difficult as the numbers of authors attempting to self-publish increases and the number of e-book  readers levels off. This is just a matter of  numerical reality and common sense. Nowadays, when I put I put up a new title on Smashwords, it is off the charts (relegated to page 5 or greater) in a few hours. Back when Smashwords was just starting out, a newly published e-book would stay visible (in the first several pages of listings) for a few days.

Reversing The Trend

However, all is not lost for the newbie writer, for there are several ways to beat the odds and gain a loyal following. Let’s assume for a minute that you have already found a small niche with a couple of written pieces that readers respond to in a positive way, which hopefully includes an occasional purchase or two. From here the next step will be to bring more people into your readership base.

The best way to do this is to self-publish more work, while at the same time, letting everybody know about your newest release. Currently, blogging and participating in other forms of social media, such as Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc., are the best methods to get the word out……. And hopefully along the way, something that you wrote goes viral and you become the latest internet sensation…….BUT DON’T COUNT ON IT……for slow and steady seems to be the rule of the day.

Going The Kickstarter Route

So far I have been working on the assumption that you are doing everything, like editing, proofreading, cover design and formatting, on your own. If you aren’t, good thinking because bringing talented personnel to help out with these tasks can be a big boost to the way your final product appears to the prospective buyer. It can also be a big drain on your bank account.

This is where funding sites like Kickstarter can be an essential aid to the newbie self-publisher, because by the time your first publication is ready to go live, you will be more of a publisher than a writer. However, the plus side to all of this, is that going through a public crowd sourcing site, like Kickstarter will force you to plan ahead and seek good graphic designers, formatters, proofreaders and whoever may be required to get your little literary effort looking ship-shape. And then again another big advantage, is that once your project goes live, your potential readership will grow from the ranks of those who choose to support your project. And that my friends is a win-win situation.

contrary to popular belief, self-publishing is seldom an easy ride,
Contrary to popular belief, self-publishing is seldom an easy ride.

 

 

Advertisements

Keeping Up With the Times

The Silent Fisherman by N.C. Wyeth. N.C. Wyeth was a painter, whose exquisite artwork was done primarily for illustrations in books and magazines.
The Silent Fisherman by N.C. Wyeth. N.C. Wyeth was a painter, whose exquisite artwork was done primarily for illustrations in books and magazines.

The Weird World of the Internet

Things seem to change and evolve at a faster rate than they did back in the good ole days. For example, I never imagined that I would live to see the word ‘google’ become a common verb. I remember learning about the numerical concept behind a google in math class. It was quite mind- boggling, but so is the way we commonly use this scientific term to define an internet search technique. Who knows what the future may bring?

Looking Back

I’m also old enough to have been in grade school when JFK was shot and killed. The whole spectacle, from assassination to burial, became a drawn-out media event unlike anything that had been seen before on TV. ( I was actually watching the tube when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot) Furthermore, the event galvanizing the news media into realizing how much interest can be generated by an extraordinary event like the assassination of an American president and consequently how much time people will invest in following a major news story.

Books In the Electronic Age

Things have changed a lot since the sixties and one of the biggest differences has been the arrival of digital communication. This change also includes something new, called the electronic book, more commonly known as the ebook. Fortunately, today, we still have book stores and book vendors who still actual books made from cellulose paper products. These items have attractive covers, brief promotional blurbs from famous people, some info about the author and a good story. Overall, this piece of merchandise is basically unchanged except the cover artist may have created a cover design containing state of the art digital design.

You Still Can Judge A Book By Its Cover

Surprisingly, e-books still have a lot in common with their paper cousin, the tree book. The cover is meant to catch your eye and draw you in. It is also heavily influenced by digital art, especially since the image must be converted to digital form, so it can be viewed online and eventually be downloaded to your computer or electronic reading device. Not only will the cover be influenced by the new digital design techniques, but writing styles in the electronic age are evolving as well. It still takes a good story to capture a reader, but more and more, the shorter literary forms (such as novellas, flash fiction and short-shorts) are ding a better job at gaining the reader’s attention.

And One More Thing

With the advent of the new media, authors are discovering that the first paragraph and even the first sentence are so important in capturing then reader’s attention. Though a lengthy, wordy and highly descriptive beginning may be still be an important literary achievement, it still might lose the average reader and thus be a detriment to higher sales.

Today's digital imagery not only changes the way we visualize a picture and an idea, but it also changing our reading habits.
Today’s digital imagery not only changes the way we visualize a picture and an idea, but it also changing our reading habits.

What’s New for 2015

Vela Supernova Remnant  Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC  (Central European Deep Sky Imaging)Team - Processing: Wolfgang Leitner
Vela Supernova Remnant
Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC (Central European Deep Sky Imaging Conference) Team – Processing: Wolfgang Leitner

Welcome To 2015

It’s now 2015,  hard to believe isn’t it? Here in Montana we are in the midst of a four-day snow event. One that should leave us with at least a foot of snow. So far, the first two days have quite snowy and the total accumulations should hold up. Around the world, Indonesian planes are still crashing, the Russian economy is in deep doo-doo and American politics are still deadlocked….And as always, things are changing for the Indie writer and self publisher. Here’s what new for the self-published and ebook writer.

Amazon

Big changes are up and about at Amazon. On the up-side Amazon Studios is releasing new shows and films via online streaming, thus creating new markets for writers. Interested writers with a good script can apply directly to Amazon Studios and if you make it all the way through the final cut, the end result og having your little sitcom shown by Amazon can be quite lucrative.

On the down side, the Kindle Select Program is being diluted by Kindle Unlimited, so Indie authors are not making as much per boook sale. Authors with books priced higher are particularly hard hit by this new development. (The one beneficiary here would be those making sales at $0.99 cents. Since the paypout is still above one dollar, they gain by selling through KU. But not if the KU price keeps dropping…..which may become a reality.)

The Indie Field

Just because Amazon is cozying up to the Big Boys, this does not mean that the Indie Field is crumbling. There still are many ample opportunities out there, especially for those writers with a very good written, product and a good sense for how the market is changing. One thing to note is that ebook sales may not be showing the explosive growth potential that they did in the recent past. In fact, it is highly unlikely that there be another growth period than the one that we have most recently seen……Unless of course you come up with the next Harry Potter or Shades of Gray.

It’s Still A Great Time To Be a Writer

Despite some ominous signs, it’s still a great time to be a writer. Good reads are being released all the time and with a little bit of skill and a lot of perseverence you could be a writer that reaches a mass audience in a meaningful way.

My Goals

I have quite a few goals for this year. We’ll see how they turn out in about twelve months or so.

1. Finish my half-completed novel and submit the manuscript to agents. (I love the second part of this goal.)

2. Write another screenplay. (The writing part is fun and easy, but oh tell me how do you sell one.)

3. Keep blogging at least once a week. (Sunday is good but I may move to Mon or Tues)

4. Continue writing short stories and flash fiction and then self-publish them as ebooks. (Self-publishing is easy, but selling stories as ebooks is getting more difficult.

5. Invest a little in marketing.

Northern Lights in Ruka, Finland     from wikipedia photo by russavia
Northern Lights in Ruka, Finland from wikipedia
photo by russavia

Amazon’s Advantage

The tortoise and the Hare from the Gutenberg Project via Wikipedia
The tortoise and the Hare from the Gutenberg Project via Wikipedia. Who the tortoise is and who the hare represents in this ongoing conflict depends largely on point of view.

Life On Normal Street

Recently, I had the pleasant opportunity of viewing one of Amazon Studio’s new releases, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. It was an enjoying half-hour program about three kids finding their own adventure on an unusually hot summer day. The first of this kid’s series was done very well. The Main Street setting and the liberal use of magic realism reminded me of some of Ray Bradbury tales from his childhood in Waukegan, Illinois. Created by David Anaxagoras, this story came to Amazon Studios by open submission.

Amazon Diversifies

Amazon Studios is Amazon’s answer to Netflix. The above-mentioned, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, is just the first in a line of TV pilots and movies from Amazon Studios that can be downloaded and watched on various electronic devices, ranging from a Smartphone to a large flat screen TV. These programs usually cost to view, but some pilots can be watched free of charge by the general public, as was the case with the first episode of Gortimer Gibbons. The point here, is that Amazon is a company that seems willing and capable of expanding its creative efforts. And in the case of Amazon Studios, they are more than willing to deal directly with writers in developing visual content.

Hachette and Simon & Schuster 

Though these two Big Five publishers appear to have received the better part of their deal with Amazon. However, they, along with other large-scale publishers, may face an uncertain future with the paperback bestseller. The high-priced e-book deal these companies cut with Amazon is designed to aid the sale of paperbacks. I don’t know of anybody that believes e-books will replace the paperback, but they will take a larger slice of the pie in the upcoming years. Just how big this slice will be could depend on how well each party plays its own hand.

Parent Companies

Strangely enough, the biggest problem for these publishers may be their parent companies, who may demand maximum profits at the expense of literary quality, fair royalties for writers and incentives to diversify. The Big Five may not be doomed as some the new Kindle millionaires may suggest, but they certainly do face a challenging future.

Amazon Settles With Hachette, Who Won?

Two grizzly bears fighting, from wikipedia
Two grizzly bears fighting, from wikipedia

“As with most battles, all combatants lost a little something in end.”  Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords

The News

Last week, Amazon and Hachette came to a tenuous agreement on their feud concerning ebook pricing. The Amazon-Hachette settlement followed an Amazon-Simon & Schuster agreement that went down just a few weeks ago. If you stand back and look at both agreements, they are not all that different. The Agency means of ebook pricing pretty much stayed in tact. What this means is that the publisher (Hachette and Simon & Schuster), gets to set ebook prices in most cases. Amazon gets to some discounting (they wanted much more), but only under certain circumstances.

Good News for the Print Market

Most observers believe that Hachette and the Big Five publishers wanted to keep ebook prices high so that they could discourage ebook sales and push paper sales, which at present  are their main bread and butter. This should benefit authors, who are capable of generating large numbers of paperback sales in the mass marketplace. It is no wonder than best-selling authors such  as Stephen King, Tess Gerritsen, James Paterson, JK Rowling, John Grisham and Donna Tartt, all supported high-priced ebooks to keep paperback sales high.

Thorough Agreement

This agreement that Simon & Schuster first achieved will most likely set the tone for any negotiation between Amazon and any other Big Five or large-scale publisher. Although Amazon did get some concessions, these terms favor the short-term livelihood of the large publisher.

Why Indie Authors Might Be the Big Winner

By keeping ebook prices high for traditional authors, self published ebook authors, who keep their prices low and royalties high, may be the biggest winners. For those working outside a major paper publisher, large sales and high royalties are possible by placing a book in the $2.99 to $7.99 range, not only through Amazon, but with other ebook publishers as well. By maintaining the status quo, Big Five publishers may drive more readers to the Indie market, where ebook prices will probably stay the same in the near future.

The Ultimate Irony

The ultimate irony is that in order to develop and encourage new talent that can create mass paperback sales, companies like Hachette may have to mine the field of self-published Indie authors. This situation may come to exist if  the Agency model does become less lucrative for mid list and first time authors. In this situation, much depends on how much of an overall share the ebook market achieves.

Hachette’s (and other Big 5) Dilemma

After this agreement, Hachette will come under increasing pressure to raise ebook royalties for authors and also to show a better bottom line in profits to its parent company, Legendaire. These could be conflicting demands that will never be met at the same time….or a situation, where the publisher might opt for lower ebook prices to increase sale and profits.

More Words from Bloggers

Yellow Bug parked in front of the NM Museum of Art, photo by author
Yellow Bug parked in front of the NM Museum of Art, photo by author

Best Piece of Writing Advice Ever

Best Piece of Writing Advice Yet  (from the venerable Mark Twain)   “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Nothing could be more simple, right?

Today’s look around the internet includes more on Amazon-Hatchette, words from a black screenwriter and a bunch of Tom Swifties.

Does Anybody remember Boyz in the Hood?

Don’t go through the system. Do it yourself. Do something you believe in.”
Oscar-nominated writer/director John Singleton (Boyz in the Hood

The title definitely caught my eye when the film first came out in 1991, but I never got around to watching the movie (on DVD) till a few years ago. I must say I enjoyed the show immensely. It’s a great coming of age story about a tight-knit group of black teenagers trying to cope with the urban, drug-infested neighborhood that they find themselves thrust into.

The amazing thing about this film is that Singleton wrote the screenplay and landed the director’s spot just a year or two after he graduated from UCLA film school. I can’t imagine anything like this happening today, even though they are more opportunities out there and internet sites like the Black List have made Hollywood more accessible. Do it yourself is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

This Hatchette-Amazon Thing Drags On

“Consider the French Revolution. A bunch of blue bloods really thought they were born to rule, and the peasants couldn’t live without them to govern. They were wrong.” Joe Konrath

Mr. Konrath continues his defense of ebook publishing and self-publishing with this timely rage against Author’s United. His assertion that the ebooks are radically changing the publishing world has been around for several years. Now that the Amazon-Hatchette feud dominates the literary conversation, Joe has gained more notoriety as the great defender of Amazon and the new reality of cheap ebooks. No different than the rise of paperbacks right after WWII or the emergence of DVD discs and the consequent demise of VHS tapes, ebooks are here to stay. Check out his blog…….even if don’t agree his opinions you may the argument compelling.

Who Was Tom Swift?

Last week while discussing the overuse of adverbs, Anne Allen dug up the popular 60s phenomena of Tom Swifties, which derived from the Tom Swift character of YA fame that has been around since 1910.

Here are some of my favorites.

“Careful with that chainsaw,” Tom said offhandedly.

“I might as well be dead,” Tom croaked.

“I wish I drove a Scandinavian car” Tom sobbed (Saabed)

“I wonder if this radium is radioactive?” asked Marie curiously

“We could have made a fortune canning pineapples” Tom groaned dolefully

“That’s the last time I’ll stick my arm in a lion’s mouth,” the lion-tamer said off-handedly.

“I’ll have a martini,” said Tom, drily (dryly)

“I unclogged the drain with a vacuum cleaner,” said Tom succinctly

“Hurry up and get to the back of the ship!” Tom said sternly

“I have no flowers,” Tom said lackadaisically

Don’t lend me more yarn— / I can’t mend worth a darn,” / Said Tom, as he knitted his brow.

Kind of silly, but in a way they still retain some of their charm.

Final Quote of the Day

“Don’t write a book someday, write a book today. That’s what I did.” Chuck Wendig

 

Good Writing Will Find a Way To the Surface…….No Matter What the Current State of Affairs

Rings Around the Ring Nebula  Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler
Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Amazon-Hachette Takes It Toll

As the Amazon-Hachette stand-off continues, it appears the party most being hurt are the authors. Amazon and Hachette aren’t doing too well either, yet still there is no clear signal as to how long this dispute will last or how things will turn out, when the issues finally get resolved. From my viewpoint, which definitely, leans towards Amazon, it looks like ebook sales will continue to grow and that more authors will pursue the ebook as the primary venue for their creative literary efforts. This will include newbie authors as well as writers previously published with both small and large print presses. High profile best-selling authors will continue to see most of their sales come through the retailing of paperback books, which probably predisposes these guys and gals away from the growing ebook market.

How It Used To Be

The conclusion of World War II and the return of the American G.I. to the U.S., lead to many books being published by authors, who in the past may have found a harder road to publication. War seen through the first person had always been prevalent in literature (i.e. The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet On the Western Front ), but there seemed to an outpouring of  books about the “Big One.” The war experience  launched such notable writers as Norman Mailer, James Michener, Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway (Spanish Civil War). Unfortunately, the publicationof war stories has not been discontinued as we roll into the 21st century, for armed conflict around the world has not abated by any means. In fact, it is quite possible that they have increased. However, the point here is that in the 40s and 50s, editors and publishers were not overwhelmed by large numbers of ambitious and talented writers, like they are today.

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons
First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

Manchild In the Promised Land

In 1965 Macmillan & Co. published Claude Brown’s street-tough classic, Manchild In the Promised Land. Though Claude Brown grew up among Harlem hoodlums, he was able to turn his life around and complete a memoir about his troubled NYC youth in upper Manhattan. The book was discovered in the slush pile by an astute NYC editor and eventually went on to sell four million copies and was also translated into 14 languages. At time of publication Mr. Brown was working as a mail carrier, but would begin a lecturing career that lasted a lifetime once the book became successful. Claude Brown also introduced Toni Morrison to his editor, who also became a major catalyst with her literary success.

Trying To Get A Handle On Today’s Literary Scene

Things are definitely changing today. Books are still being printed and read, but the onset of ebooks has definitely leveled the playing field somewhat. Many of the old authors despise the new format. One of the most notables was the late Ray Bradbury, who recently said this about ebooks:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”

Despite these words, Mr. Bradbury succumbed to the evils of ebooks before he passed away. However, writers facing the challenge of first-time publication are presented with a whole set of different problems than Ray Bradbury, when he first came of age as a author at the end of WWII. Since mainline publishers are more and more interested in mass market genre titles and less so in literary fiction, contemporary authors cannot necessarily rely on the proverbial slush pile for their success, even though it is still a viable option for some. Instead networking, visibility on social networks, blogging, self-publishing and plain old perseverance all play an important part in getting the story out.
P.S. Thanks goes out to Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal for the inspiration for this blog. Alan is the editor who discovered Claude Brown and was consequently introduced to Toni Morrison, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.