Photo by Rod Searcey
Book Expo America, the big New York show for publishers, featured several new resources for self-published writers. Here’s a roundup:
• BookWorks founder Betty Sargent and BookDesigner founder Joel Friedlander have teamed up to publish The Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. The new book contains over 800 curated resources, including editors, designers, and book marketing experts by name. BookWorks also offers an online database of vetted publishing professionals, as do Bibliocrunch and Reedsy.
• Publishers Weekly now offers “first reads” and “evaluations” of your manuscript by professionals in the book business. Through its Booklife site for self-published authors, PW experts will provide feedback on a treatment plus the opening 1,500 words of your manuscript for $79; or the entire manuscript for under $600.
• TextCafe is one of several new companies making it easier to create samples of your book to tweet, post or email to potential readers. You control the percentage of your ebook you want to reveal and which online bookstores to show your readers. Your sample goes out with front cover intact. TextCafe is offering a free 21-day trial. Litlette is offering similar sampling services through Facebook.
• BookBub, the company that offers new titles to readers at discounted prices, provided a glimpse at their own reader demographics during the Expo. Turns out they are strongest at reaching older women—empty-nesters—who are heavy readers of genre fiction (romance, mystery, thrillers, fantasy). Fifty-nine percent of their readers read over 4 books per month. You must be accepted into the BookBub program and you must pay for the promotion, but once accepted, you have a better chance of reaching the readers you want.
• SelfPubBookCovers featured at BookExpo a sampling of their large collection of inexpensive pre-made book covers. Such covers (which start at $69) are becoming a bigger part of the picture for authors on a budget, especially those writing genre fiction. Once a cover is sold, it is never sold again.
• Vellum offers a variety of templates to make your book interior look as though it has been professionally designed. As costs start at $29 per template, that makes Vellum’s templates less expensive than TheBookDesigner’s.
The best novelist I’ve ever seen present? Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) … especially when he brings his accordion.
(Photo by Rod Searcey)
Because I spent 16 years running the Stanford Publishing Courses, I’ve seen far more than my share of book talks–the good, the bad and the ugly.
It’s tricky, creating a talk that pulls people in. You can’t just read passages from your book. You’ve got to give them some kind of show. Or you’ve got to reveal some part of yourself–real or imaginary–that relates to your book.
And if you’re talking to a literary crowd, it’s also useful to tell the tale of how the book came to you, how you got it down on paper, and what your writing process looks like.
Count on this: your audience is far more interested in you than they are in your book.
Check out this thoughtful advice on how to talk about your novel from Josh Cook, author of An Exaggerated Murder.
When it comes to publishing ebooks, I’ve often helped writers make their books available on all the e-readers in the marketplace—Kindle, iPad, Nook, Kobo and a dozen or so smaller ones. Usually, we’ve accomplished this by using the services of an ebook distributor such as Bookbaby.
But in the past year, I’ve come to think that it’s smarter to publish exclusively on Kindle through Amazon’s KDP platform. Here’s why:
• When you publish with KDP exclusively, you can take advantage of several powerful promotional programs through KDP Select. Some of these programs allow you to temporarily reduce the price of your book to spark initial interest.
• KDP tracks and reports sales figures daily—which allows you to immediately see the effects of your promotional efforts. With Bookbaby, sales figures are reported several months after the sales are made—and so you have no idea which promotion might have caused that spike in sales several weeks ago.
• With KDP, you can fix typos, change your pricing, and publish updated editions of your book easily and cheaply. You just re-upload your data whenever you need to. With Bookbaby, the process costs money and takes weeks as your files are pulled from a dozen different e-reader stores.
• Kindle currently has about 70% of the e-reader market in the US, and if you take into consideration the fact that Kindle books can be read on the Apple iPad using the free Kindle App, then that figure jumps to over 90%. The readers you disappoint are those who own Nooks or Kobos—a small percentage of the market.
Ah, permissions. This is one of the knottiest areas of publishing for writers who are trying to do things right.
When do you need to ask permission to use a quote, or a graph, or a poem, or a photo in your book? How do you find the rights holder? What constitutes “fair use?” And what do you do if you can’t get permission or won’t pay the licensing fee?
For answers to these and related questions, check out Jane Friedman’s comprehensive blogpost, including a sample permissions letter. In one short post with links, she has put together an excellent resource for writers.
And what happens if you ignore this step? If you’re lucky, you’ll get a cease-and-desist letter from the copyright-holder’s lawyer, and you’ll have to pull from the marketplace any books that have already been printed. Penalties increase from there–and can include a day in court. Don’t overlook this crucial step in preparing your book for publication.
Jeff Bezos spoke at the Stanford Publishing Course for several years running in the ‘90s. At the time, the only thing Amazon was selling was books, and we loved books.
But he tipped his hand one day as he was leaving campus. “I don’t know why you ask me back every year,” he mused before ducking into a town car headed to the airport.
What an odd comment, I thought. Now, of course, it has become clear. We saw him as a highly inventive book distributor. He saw himself as something entirely different.
Now there’s a wicked fight going on between Hachette and Amazon over the price of ebooks. Hachette wants to keep those prices higher than Amazon does, and since they can’t come to agreement, Amazon has slowed the sale of Hachette books by various means—including blocking preorders and removing listing of some titles.
If you want a roadmap of the current controversy, which is now being debated by Clay Shirkey, Mike Shatzkin and Brian O’Leary, start with Jane Friedman’s excellent summary here.
Bezos himself has been mum on this issue, but his team did respond—somewhat obliquely. On August 8, they sent a mass email to their Kindle authors, asking them to rally around Amazon’s efforts to keep ebook prices low. Here’s the crux of Amazon’s argument:
Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.
Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.
(Read the entire email here).
It’s unusual for Amazon to provide hard numbers such as these. But the argument is a cogent one, and that’s probably why Amazon decided to open the kimono.
I do not think traditional publishers have it right when they argue that Amazon threatens the future of literary culture. I believe that we are seeing the birth of a new publishing business model that offers serious authors greater control and a better shot at connecting with their readers—and lower prices for ebooks are part of that model.
But having worked for the past four years with authors who publish directly through Amazon, I also see how slim the profit margins are for these authors after all the bills are paid. (See my post here. ) I would love to see Amazon seize this crucial moment not by strong-arming Hachette, but rather by rethinking its own business model and sharing more of the revenue with authors. If we’re talking about “promoting a healthier reading culture,” wouldn’t this would be a far more powerful and effective tactic?
So…take the high road, Jeff. Support a healthy reading culture. Don’t block the sale of Hachette books. Rather, spend your time and money nurturing the authors who are experimenting with it and with you. Share more of the profits generated under the new publishing model with the entrepreneurial authors who are building it together with Amazon.
One of the most intriguing announcements at Book Expo 2014 was about Goodreads’ new “Ask the Author” feature. If you’re signed up as an author on Goodreads, you can now host your own Q&A sessions, thus making new connections with your readers.
Goodreads beta-tested the program with 54 well-known authors, including James Patterson, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, Khaled Hosseini and Isabel Allende. Now they’re opening up the feature to all authors.
Patrick Brown, Goodreads Director of Author Marketing, offered suggestions on how to get the best out of this new feature. Among them:
• Set expectations early: Tell your readers which topics you’ll answer and when. Don’t feel as though you have to answer every question every day.
• Choose the questions you want to answer carefully, and post legitimate answers to them. You have control over which questions you want to show up on your page. Choose questions whose answers you’re happy to feature on your profile.
• Participate in the Goodreads reader community. Ask questions of other authors and review their books. You don’t have to give star ratings to every book you discuss. Just be thoughtful. Sometimes showing up with a thoughtful comment on another author’s page inspires interest in your own work.
Check out the list of bestselling authors already answering questions on Goodreads. Very impressive.
A selfie taken with Martin Short, one of the celebrity authors featured at BEA 2014.
Book Expo America (BEA) is one of the largest and most prestigious book conferences in the world. Over a thousand exhibitors, 750 authors, and booksellers and publishers all together in one big hall. A book lover’s paradise.
For a few more photos of all the craziness, check out my Pinterest board below.
Holly’s board of Book Expo America sights – 2014 on Pinterest.
Ever since Ingram Spark launched late last summer, we’ve been keenly interested in it for many reasons, among them: 1) Spark offers the first print-on-demand service for hardcover books with jackets; and 2) Spark provides writers with a friendlier path into bookstores than Amazon/CreateSpace. (Some bookstores won’t stock CreateSpace books because they believe Amazon is killing their business.)
I’ve just finished a project in which we published a book both on CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. Here’s what we learned:
• CreateSpace is faster to publish. Ingram Spark requires 3-5 days to produce a book once an order is placed. CreateSpace produced and shipped our book on the same day we placed the order–and that was a Saturday.
• Royalties are about equal–unless you plan to sell your book from your own site. Spark offers you a flat royalty of 45% of list price minus production costs for each book sold. Amazon offers you 40% less production costs. But if the buyer purchases the book through a link from your website to Amazon, you get 60%.
• CreateSpace gets books to market quicker. This was a surprise: after we approved our proof copy, Spark asked us to allow 6-8 weeks to get the book into their distribution channels. Yike–and we had already planned a series of bookstore signings. With Createspace, we were able to get the book up on Amazon in 48 hours.
• CreateSpace offers lower “author pricing.” For the exact same book, Spark charges our author $3.43, while CreateSpace charges $3.15.
• CreateSpace’s shipping costs are considerably lower. Whether you’re ordering a single proof copy or cartons of your books, shipping costs can be significant. Why Ingram Spark doesn’t understand this and choose less expensive shipping partners is a mystery. In our case, a single proof copy of our book shipped across country cost the following:
2nd day $173
• CreateSpace customer service is better. Their email turnaround time is a day or less–and you can get a live person on the phone if you’re desperate. With Spark, you must email your question, and turnaround time (for us) turned out to be 2-3 days.
• CreateSpace charges no service fee. Spark charges $49 setup fee and a $12 “POD market access fee”–whatever that is.
Ingram Spark is an important player in this new world of publishing–and I hope they succeed in offering writers more choices in how to publish their books. But Spark need to do a little tweaking of their offerings if they expect to co-exist with ultra-competitive Amazon.
Plenty of people will tell you that self-publishing a book is free. And it is free if all you’re talking about is the cost of uploading your files to CreateSpace or Kindle or Bookbaby.
But publishing a book that can compete in today’s overstuffed marketplace requires a number of skill sets, some of which you’re going to have to job out. And that requires an investment on your part.
Here’s how the numbers break out for the average self-published writer:
- $1,500 for a simple copyedit. More if your book is long or if you need structural help.
- $800 for a cover design (front, back, spine). That’s after you realize that the cover templates offered on self-publishing websites are so bad as to be unusable. (No extra cost for using that same design for your ebook.)
- $0 for page layout. Most people use the free templates offered on self-publishing websites to format their books. But it’s a huge time sink, trust me on that.
- $0 for technical help. Once you have pdfs of your cover and interior, it’s relatively easy to upload the files if you have any tech savvy.
- $250 for ISBN numbers. If you want to avoid CreateSpace being listed as your publisher of record on Amazon, you’ll buy your own ISBN numbers at www.myidentifiers.com. One costs $125. Ten cost $250. You’ll need two–one for your print book and one for your ebook. You can’t buy two, of course.
- $25 for a barcode. You buy that from www.myidentifiers.com, too, and put it on your back cover.
- $? for marketing. You’ll be spending lots of time and some money in marketing your book. Perhaps the most common cost comes when you decide to submit your book to Kirkus, Foreword or Publishers Weekly for review. Cost: around $450.
Add it up, and you realize that you’ll be investing at least $2,500 in your publishing endeavor. Then the question becomes: are you, the publisher, willing to invest $2,500+ into you, the author?