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.

 

 

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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.

Across the Great Divide – Update On the Amazon-Hachette Feud

“Fine! So stop selling them (Hachette books), already. Just shut up about it and pull the trigger. Be mercenary.” Chuck Wendig, commenting on the Amazon-Hachette feud

220px-AcrosstheGreatDivide1976

Across the Great Divide is a 1976 film that stars Robert Logan, Heather Rattray, and George Buck Flower. Perhaps, the title is also symbolic as to what a small group of well-financed writers headquartered in the Northeast has done to the American writing community.

Authors Purchase Big Time Add In NY Times

“Authors aren’t united on anything. Why would they be? We work from home. Alone. We can maaaaaybe agree that pants are a tool of the oppressors and that we subsist on various liquids (tea, coffee, whiskey, the tears of our readers). Why do we have to be united?” Chuck Wendig

On Sunday August 10 a group of authors, calling themselves Authors United ran a full page add in the Sunday NY Times defending the Hachette Corporation of France in its economic loggerhead with Amazon. Around 900 names appeared on the ad, which cost in thelow  six figure range and was financed by 72 of the 900. Basically, the letter accused the Amazon Corp. of organizing a boycott of Hachette products, refusing to discount Hachette products, slowing the delivery of Hachette books and suggesting to readers that they purchase different (non-Hachette) titles.

This debate has dragged on for several months and at this point in time, a settlement seems far off. In the meantime, growing discontent among pro-Hachette and pro-Amazon writers has turned the feud into a bit of a soap opera, especially on the Social Media, where everybody who’s anybody is sounding off on the issue. Though this may make for great entertainment, the situation does not encourage ebook sales, which is essentially the heart of the debate.

My Turn To Rant

Ok, it’s my turn to rant. And by the way, I’m not exactly neutral in this debate since I sell low-priced ebooks through both Amazon and Smashwords. Also, I do sell a story or two to online journals, but this is a rather rare event. Moreover, I have not found a way to break into the print market, except P.O.D., a pathway, which I have not even remotely considered.

My basic complaint with Amazon is that they have too nice to Hachette. They were a primary player in the development of the ebook market and their opinion that ebooks sell best in the three digit range seems valid. And I don’t consider them a monopoly (just a Giant corporation) either for they have lots of competition with businesses like Google, Apple, Kobo and B & N.

On the other hand Hachette’s main line are books in print, so why are they wasting so much time in energy in this fight. It might hurt their print sales and if things go really bad, their French holder, Legardere, might dump them completely. I guess I don’t the understand French business karma very well at all, but it does seem like they are shooting themselves in the foot.

Writers Gone Goofy 

To me the strangest thing of all is the way that millionaire genre writers, such as Stephen King, JK Rowling, Douglas Preston, James Patterson, John Grisham and Heather Graham, have taken on Amazon like it was the devil incarnate. They seem to have all jumped in bed with Big Five publishing (at the same time) without any concerns for their own well-being. Have these people forgotten that once they were unpublished writers?

Things have changed over the last ten years and breaking into print has become much more difficult than it used to be. True this is a slowly developing situation that goes back to the  post WWII years, when there weren’t so many authors pining for a book contract. But today’s Indie ebook market helps newbie authors find a platform. (So do small presses and university publishers). Overall, the old maxim that good writing will find its audience still holds true, but the rules have definitely changed quite a bit……And maybe not so much for the better.

2001 Sourdough Raft Race, passing beneath the High Level Bridge's Great Divide waterfall. (Edmonton, Alberta)
2001 Sourdough Raft Race, passing beneath the High Level Bridge’s Great Divide waterfall. (Edmonton, Alberta) from Wikipedia

Who’s Who In the Amazon-Hachette Debate

painting by Rembrandt
painting by Rembrandt

Overview In the very near future a group of writers, calling themselves Authors United, will place an ad in the NY Times addressing the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, Beware folks, for this little episode is about to get a whole bunch bigger. I’m not quite sure when the ad will appear, but you can bet your bottom dollar, that when it does, stakes will be raised dramatically on both sides. In the mean time here’s a short list of literary personalities and author organizations that are sounding off on the issue in question.

Amazon

Amazon is the giant online retailer that sells anything from computers and cell phones to baby dolls. Currently, they are locked in a debate with Hachette over the prices of ebooks that are published by Hachette and sold by Amazon. Basically, Amazon wants lower retail prices, while Hachette doesn’t.

Hatchette headquarters in Paris, France  from wiki commons, photo by Tangopaso
Hachette headquarters in Paris, France from wiki commons, photo by Tangopaso

Hachette

Hachette is a French book publisher, headquartered in Paris, France. Recently, they entered the American market (2006) with the purchase of Time-Warner books. Their dispute with Amazon revolves around the pricing and profit-sharing of ebooks.

Douglas Preston

Douglas Preston is a popular horror and techno-thriller author, who has organized writers in support of Hachette in their feud with Amazon.

Stephen Colbert Stephen Colbert is the host of the Colbert Report, a popular program of political satire on Comedy Central (and successful Hachette author). Stephen has also been selected by CBS to replace Dave Letterman as host of the Late Show, when David retires next year. Colbert jumped into this debate big time,  (aided by Native American author Sherman Alexie) by symbolically giving Amazon the finger, not once, but twice on the Colbert Report.

Authors United

Authors United is an offshoot from an effort by Douglas Preston to get Amazon.com to help out authors during Amazon’s dispute with Hachette. In June (2014) Preston circulated a letter that was signed by several hundred writers that demanded that Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) stop hurting authors during the company’s economic feud with the Big Five Publisher. Literary luminaries who have signed on with this group include James Patterson, Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros, J.K. Rowling and Lee Child. About 80 of these writers have come together and purchased a NY Times full page ad, supporting their position. The ad will probably appear in late July or early August of 2014. Just a run-through of the signees will show who is making big bucks in today’s literary world.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, may be the one author, who has been most damaged by the literary stand-off. That is because her new Hachette release, Silkworm, has fallen right in the middle of this debate, causing a serious decline in online sales and orders.

Authors Guild

The Authors Guild is a literary organization with 18,000 members that tends to support Big Five or Legacy published authors. This group along with SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), The Tony Hillerman’s Writers Conference and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust have supported the Hatchette position.

JA Konrath

Not everyone in the writing community supports the Big Five publisher, Hachette. In fact, most writers, who have had any kind of online success with ebooks tend to favor Amazon. That’s because Amazon sell ebooks (lots of them in fact) and pays its authors a high royalty. Highly visible among this group is JA Konrath a mystery and crime writer, who has seen his sales soar, as an ebook writer. Interested parties can follow the debate through Joe’s eyes at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

Hugh Howey If you haven’t heard of Hugh Howey, then the best way to describe this writer might be as the James Patterson of electronic authorship. And not surprisingly he has been a staunch defender of self-publishing ebooks with Amazon or other online venues. Recently, Hugh wrote and self-published a short story called Wool. This sci-fi tale has morphed into a successful screenplay, online book and series, making the writer a very wealthy man in the process.

Chuck Wendig

For a slightly satiric digression from the self-published view, you might want to check out the irascible efforts of Chuck Wendig, a highly visible novelist, screenwriter and game designer on the internet. His blog, Terrible Minds, is always worth a visit. Be sure to check out his opinion of the Amazon-Hatchette controversy and the coming Kindle Unlimited experiment.

Another Storm On the Horizon

If you think the financially affluent writing community is really sticking it to the struggling, under-published author (like I do), you might want to hang onto your horses for a minute or two. For Amazon has just released another publishing bombshell on the literary world. This juggernaut is called Kindle Unlimited and though it’s a bit too soon to know for sure, this Amazon project could turn into the “Netflix” for ebooks…….not a great scenario for mid-list and low-list authors.

And the Thot Plickens – Updates on the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900 from wikipedia
God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900 from wikipedia

Bad News For Amazon

Currently, the Amazon-Hachette dispute seems to be leaning in Amazon’s favor (my opinion), despite the fact that a whole bunch of literary heavyweights have taken up the cause of the Big Five publisher. For those of you not familiar with the situation, Amazon and Hachette are currently locked in a monetary dispute that, as time goes on, seems to favor Amazon coming away from the disagreement in the best shape. However, all is not hunky dory in the Amazon camp. Here are a few recent news story to illustrate some of the problems the giant online retailer may be facing in the near future, not to mention their growing competition for the ebook market.

Another Federal Lawsuit

Currently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing Amazon over its children’s in-app purchases. According to the Feds, Amazon has made it way too easy for minors to make online purchase through a variety of mobile and non-mobile apps. The Feds want to make it impossible for children to purchase online without their parent’s permission. Amazon does not deny the situation, but responds by saying that they are already improving the situation.

The gardens at the Luxembourg palace in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is the official name for this tiny land-locked European nation. from wikipedia commons, photo by Benh Lieu Song
The gardens at the Luxembourg palace in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is the official name for this tiny land-locked European nation. from wikipedia commons, photo by Benh Lieu Song

Children’s Book Author Turns Down Amazon-backed Award

Just about the same time as news of the Federal lawsuit was released, Allan Ahlberg, a UK children’s author, turned down a lifetime achievement award, because Booktrust, the giver of the award, has used Amazon funds to award the recipient. Ahlberg cites Amazon’s use of Luxembourg as a tax dodge, while selling a large volume of books in Great Britain, as the main reasoning behind his refusal. Reportedly, Amazon has avoided millions in British taxes by claiming to be a Luxemborg-based business,

My View

Despite the Hachette thing, all the hoopla from successful authors and the FTC lawsuit, Amazon’s biggest problem may be competition from other ebook retailers. Although Amazon my have dominated this new bookselling phenomena in the past, I expect other ebook publishers to make inroads on the market in the years to come. Competition is a good thing, really.