Sunday, October 24, 2010

Random Thoughts

First, let me start by apologizing for being late this morning. I didn't get the post written last night and, gasp, slept in some this morning.

Reading through the comments to yesterday's open thread post started me thinking. Yes, I know, this is a dangerous thing. But I'm not to blame. Really, I'm not. You guys are the ones who did it. ;-p

What I'd like to do is talk publishing through Amazon's DTP platform, Barnes & Noble's PubIt program or even Smashwords as an independent author. More than that, I'd like to focus on doing it as an independent author who doesn't have books already out through traditional routes.

The first things you need to remember is that not only do you have to read the book, but you have to make sure it is edited on a professional level. This isn't so much because the platforms for digital self-publication require it and will check for it but because your readers will. Amazon et al, doesn't offer editing services. However, they will yank an e-book if they receive enough complaints about the editing. (The same goes for formatting, but we'll discuss that in a moment.) Worse, if your book is poorly edited -- and this means copy edits as well as proofreading -- it will be discussed at length not only in reviews that will be posted on the e-book's sales page but in the various ebook fora where readers congregate to discuss their latest reads.

You also have to worry about layout and formatting. Working hand-in-hand with this is making sure you submit to each of these e-book outlets in the appropriate manner. Amazon DTP requires different files than B&N which requires slightly different from Apple's iBookstore which is different from Smashwords. Also, Smashwords requires certain language be included on the title page showing that your e-book is being distributed through them. After each of your e-book outlets have done their conversions, you need to check EACH PAGE of your book or short story to make sure everything looks right.

This is important because your formatting can and will change at least once. A chapter title that was centered may no longer be. That special character or accent is no longer there and, in it's place, is some strange mark. The spacing between paragraphs is missing and you don't have indentions so it now looks like you have one great big paragraph.

Oh, and you can't rely on their emulators to know how your e-book will look when opened on the appropriate e-book reader or pc version of their reader. You need to look at it on the reader or pc program. Again, more time.

And, again, if you have too many issues with formatting, the readers will complain in the fora and to the seller and the e-book may be pulled. Amazon, when they do this, will let you know so you can correct the problem.

Another factor to take into account is the fact that after you upload a file to any of these e-book sellers, it take time before it appears on their site. You need to generally allow a week from upload time to appearing in the catalog. Sometimes it will be less and sometimes it will be longer. It all depends on how many other e-books are in the queue ahead of you and how many "problems" their automated programs spot in your submission.

Other things you need to do that publishers would do for you -- secure an isbn for your work. Not all retailers require this, but a number of them do. Cover art and the more professional it looks the more seriously your book will be taken. Most e-tailers do require covers for any e-book submitted to them. Accounting. This is a biggie. You need to keep track of who is selling your e-book for what. Remember, you set the 'cover' price, but they can price it below that at whim. And that may impact your royalties. You also need to make sure their payouts meet what your dashboard says you've sold and your returns. And yes, there are returns on e-books and they are charged back against you.

Finally, there is the elephant in the room that can't be ignored. There are hundreds of thousands of for pay e-books out there (probably many more if you look at all the different outlets). Add to that the public domain e-books that are also being offered. You are in competition with all of them. Ask any author who has published through the traditional route about how their need to self-promote has changed over the years. Now, multiply that by 100 fold and you might be where you need to be as an indie e-book author. You don't have a publisher's name to bring readers to you. You don't have a name yourself -- unless you've been in the field for awhile and are releasing your back list now. So you are in the middle of the scrum with all the other writers trying to get readers' attention. That means promotion. Lots and lots of promotion and that takes time and creativity.

One more qualifier to consider. Bookscan will soon begin tracking e-books. That groan you just heard came from every author who has lived in fear of Bookscan numbers for their print books. Bookscan is Nielson's program a number of editors use to determine if an authors' numbers are high enough to justify buying another book from them. It's not perfect -- far from it because it doesn't track sales from Amazon (at least that's my understanding at the moment) and a number of independents, etc. So how they will track e-books is something that will be interesting to see. It may also change how they track hard copy books. But, it means the numbers from your self-published e-books will also be available to these editors and will be something they can and will refer to when considering publishing you later down the road.

All this said, I'm not trying to discourage you. But I do want you to go into this with your eyes open. It really is a lot harder to put our a quality product than it first appears and there is a lot more to being successful at it than just putting the book up on Amazon or B&N or elsewhere and waiting for the readers to come.

So, how would you promote your new e-book? Are you already building your "platform"? Do you have any questions you want to throw out there for the hive mind?


Anonymous said...

Ack, I cheated. I found someone with an already-built readership and he plugged the book there. I also have been building a steady word-of-mouth campaign on Facebook as well as my website.

I also static bombed Baen's webboard awhile back to help get some mutterings going, though that got me in trouble (it's a non-Baen book) with Arnold.

Got a few bloggers to review the book, and have multiple links to the "buy" function spread around the web. I also got a few newspapers to interview me for the book (and other stuff) to help promote some anticipation for the upcoming print release.

All that, and I think I've sold 100 copies. So... um, what was the question again? Why we do this?

I have no freaking idea...

Amanda Green said...

Jason, that's 100 copies more than a lot of e-books sell, so congrats. And keep at it. I honestly believe that in the industry today, to try to be successful an author has to do all you've already done and then some if they are just breaking in. That's especially true if you are going the self-publishing route.

So, what other ways have you considered promoting your book? As for why we do this -- we do it because we have to. It's programmed into us (that's better than saying we like to torture ourselves, right? ;-p )

MataPam said...

Nah, we write for the rush, for the fun of it. We are driven to do it.

Publicity? Now that's work! And one of the reasons I send everything to print publishers first, and haven't dipped any further into Amazon than reading half their contract.

I've been thinking of free samples. 420 character blips on facebook, twice a day or so until the 1/3rd of the book mark is reached. I suppose I could start twittering as well. Ugg!

Anonymous said...

Amanda, I'm sort of out of ideas. The book, of course, is just the eArc of the print version due out... eventually. I think my publisher was calling my bluff when I told her that sales would be better than expected if she released an eArc. Still waiting on the final numbers to see if I was right.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, be careful releasing that much of the book. A number of publishers will allow a couple of chapters but will view the book as "published" if you put out a substantial chunk of it. This is especially true of traditional houses.

I know some authors who believe wholeheartedly in twitter as a tool. Others feel they get more mileage from facebook and other sites similar to it. The thing with any social media is that there is a fine line between promotion and annoyance for the reader. A daily post is one thing. Multiple times a day may be counterproductive. Also, posting the exact same thing to each forum may not be as effective as doing something different. It is all so new that I'm not sure anyone has any real answers yet.

Amanda Green said...

Jason, a couple of other suggestions you might consider is hitting the genre boards at Amazon. I know a number of authors will post a promotion of their books there -- especially once it shows up as an Amazon listing. You might also check out some of the other boards such as and mobileread. Some of them don't allow self-promotion, so get a friend to do the promoting for you. Another option is to do guest blogs or a blog tour. As Sarah can tell you, it's a lot of work, but it does get your name out there and can be an effective promotional tool.

MataPam said...

My other self publicity idea was posting free short stories that fit in here and there in a series. I thought about posting the shorts on my Live Journal page, with a teaser and link elsewhere.

Brendan said...

J A Konrath just spoke about how he and his co-writers of their last book on his Newbies Guide web page. Marketing Drakula

Now he is an established writer so it may be harder for a newbie to do the same, but I think he has some good ideas.

Amanda, don't most of the e-retailer's accept books in the ePub format, or do they require different things in the ePub package?

Amanda Green said...

Pam, you'll get folks who argue both sides of the story. One group will say that's cool and will let potential readers see what you can do and get interested in your work. The other side will say that is walking a very dangerous path. For one, they'll remind you that you don't give away your work. For another, they will say, you are pointing out for the world and editors who will google your name any and all shortcomings, real or imagined.

I kind of walk between the two. Samples can be a good thing. But, if you put them up and you don't get a lot of hits, don't have a "respectable" number of subscribers to your page, etc., you've just wasted a short story that could have gone to a paying venue.

Basically, for that to work, you still have to do the promotion and, for my money, that promotion is better spent drawing readers to something you already have up for sale. After all, most ebook retailers allow free samples to be downloaded. Still, as I said earlier, there is no right way just now. You have to do what you feel is best for you.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, it depends on the retailer/distributor. Some will accept it in epub and even recommend using a program similar to calibre for the creation of your epub files. Others that accept epub files require specific epub versions (this is particularly true with iBookstore) and also require your epub files be run through another program to insure it meets their requirements. Smashwords has you upload as a .doc file. Amazon allows for .html (their preferred format), .doc, epub and mobi.

What I've found is that you have a better chance of your novel or short story looking the way you want it to if you submit in the format that a particular e-tailer sells. By doing so, you lessen the chances of their conversion process stripping out or corrupting some of your formatting. That is one of the issues with Smashwords and the .doc submission requirement.

As for the process Konrath and his co-authors used, they did have the advantage of already being known. It's a lot easier to get blog interviews and reviews when the folks you're approaching have some idea who you are. Also, they were able to negotiate different terms with Amazon from what the Joe Blow First Time Author using their DTP program can manage. However, it is the perfect example of what to do once you have started building a following.

But note, they did have to pay for advertising placement. This is something a lot of first time authors either don't think of, can't afford or don't have the knowledge of what sites are the best for such advertising. The sites they chose are high traffic READER sites, very important in the scheme of things.

Dave Freer said...

On the isn't on Bookscan list add Walmart B.Dalton, Sams - and add to that that many of the indie stores they collect from, data are 'partially weighted' -- given bookscan's demonstrated inability to collect good data (The Time Traveller's Wife was for example in 3 seperate genres) I live in fear of their statistical skills.

I'm not sure how this will impact on websales.

Dave Freer said...

Oh BTW. I simply cannot agree with Amanda more: very few people can edit themselves, and even less can proof-read themselves.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, I have to wonder how bookscan is going to do ebook sales figures. And how, if they count kindle sales, they will be able to justify not counting hard copy sales through Amazon. That said, I look forward to the day they misreport someone's ebook sales and that author challenges. It is so much easier to track your electronic sales numbers, especially on Amazon. As they say, the times may be very, very interesting indeed.

Dave Freer said...

On Bookscan

Kate said...

Oh lord. I'm facing this exact dilemma soon, with Impaler. It's being published by Naked Reader, so I'm going to have to publicize as much as I can - the larval plan is to get myself to as many cons as possible next year, with goodies for Naked Reader and Impaler (sod if I know what - like I said, the plan is larval), and talk the whole thing up as much as I can.

Beyond that? I have absolutely no idea.

Mike said...

I have to admit, I suspect the phrase "goodies for Naked Reader and Impaler" may create plenty of publicity all by itself...

Amanda Green said...

Dave, thanks for the link. Kristen Nelson's post about bookscan simply confirms what I'd suspected.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, at least you're beginning to think about it. What you need to do now is start figuring out blogs and fora you need or want to hit. We'll discuss other possibilities once you have.

Amanda Green said...

Mike, you've just hit on our PR program....bwahahahahaha