As you probably already know, my latest book, The Brane of the Space Pirates, was released last month. It’s had a few sales and already has one review on Amazon (5 stars! Thanks, Adrian). For an indie book by an unknown author who really doesn’t do much by way of marketing, I don’t think that’s too bad.
The big activity, however, has been on Wattpad, an online community that offers readers free access to stories on their computers or mobile devices. I’d never heard of Wattpad until the nice lady who volunteered to edit several of my books suggested I give it a try (Thanks, Rowan). I figured another outlet to get my books noticed can’t be bad. I chose to upload An Android Dog’s Tale mainly because the book is organized as a chronological series of short stories, all featuring the same main character (an artificial dog). I thought this would make it especially suitable to read on smart phones and tablets. Wattpad made it one of their featured science fiction offerings last month, and it has had over 3,000 reads and almost 200 ‘votes’ since! I’m quite pleased by this, although I can’t honestly say what it signifies or if will lead to more readers for the rest of my books.
As for my next project, I have a novel in very early planning stages, which means I have notes on setting, characters, and plot, but I haven’t fleshed any of them out as of yet. In the meantime, I’m working on a series of short stories. I’ve completed one, a second just needs some editing and prose-polishing, and am working on a draft of a third, with plans for a few more. I haven’t quite decided what to do with these, but I have to be writing something.
Amy’s Pendant is set in the same world as my ‘Warden’ novels but features a 14-year-old protagonist. I hesitate to call it YA because I did not ‘dumb down’ the vocabulary or simplify the ideas in the book for children. There is no sex, violence, or extremely vulgar language, but it is more of a YA for MA type of book, suitable, I think, for readers 14 and older.
Her father’s inventions aren’t selling, her mother has just lost her job, and there is chance Amy and her parents may soon find themselves homeless. When her aunt suggests that the mysterious pendant Amy received from her cousin for her fourteenth birthday might be a magical treasure finder, she is more determined than ever to solve the puzzle it represents. At first, her efforts lead nowhere, and then they lead to disaster when she becomes trapped inside an underground alien labyrinth populated with strange robots, android animals, and a central intelligence that does not want her to leave.
(It is also available from other Amazon sites worldwide.)
In the past, a large publisher’s most profitable strategy was to publish a relatively small number of different books with wide appeal, those for which they believed there was a large market. The large volume offset the cost of editing, cover design, printing, and promotion. This made perfectly good business sense. There were a few predefined genres, and books that fit the currently popular trends in each of those were what ended up being published and displayed on the limited shelf space in bookstores. This model worked well for the publishing business, but it didn’t provide much variety for readers.
When I was a kid, I read mostly space operas and sword and sorcery epic fantasies. That’s what the stores sold, and for speculative fiction, that was about all they sold because that is all the traditional publishers were publishing, which they did because they sold…
These books were often very much alike. If you tore out the title page, there is a good chance you would not be able to guess who wrote the story. They were as generic as fast food hamburgers and for the same reason—mass appeal, low cost, predictable content, and reasonable quality.
It seems that traditional publishers are still working to this model, and if you really want to read a new post-apocalyptic, dystopian, paranormal, vampire romance with demons, zombies and a teenage wizard, they’ll have one for you.* They’ll probably have dozens, in fact. That kind of stuff sells. They know this because they’ve already sold a bunch much like them. This doesn’t mean any of these books are good, nor does it mean all of them are bad, but it does mean that readers who want something completely different are going to have a hard time finding it.
Fortunately, the constraints of limited shelf space and mass appeal no longer apply, although I don’t think traditional publishers know this. Many authors and readers may not, either. Things are changing, though, and the change is good.
Online retailers do not need to be concerned about shelf space. This allows them to follow a different model. They can offer a wide variety of items to suit different needs and tastes rather than focusing on a relatively small number of currently popular items. Amazon may have been one of the first to adapt this idea to books, and they quickly came to dominate the book market because of it.
Then they went a step further by creating the Kindle, which made them the leader in digital books as well. They further expanded their eBook selection by encouraging writers to bypass traditional publishers and sell their books directly to readers (who had Kindles). I’m sure this wasn’t out of some altruistic concern or even due to some sense of duty to rescue the art of fiction from the doldrums. They are a business after all, and the primary business of business is, as we know, to make money, and I suspect Amazon is making a respectable profit from digital book sales. I have no idea how many eBook titles they now have available, but I imagine it’s a lot. They probably don’t sell many copies of most of these, but a few here and a few there can add a very large pile of nickels and dimes to their bottom line.
I did not realize how truly limited my book selection had been until I received a Kindle as a gift two years ago. In the years BK (Before Kindle), I got books from the library, brick and mortar bookstores, and online, but all of those books were published on paper through the gateway of a traditional publisher. I had no idea what I was missing. In the years AK (After Kindle), I have found many books that were fresh, different, that defied genre and convention, and, because of this, they were great reads. But they didn’t come from traditional publishers, which are still working to the old model of formulaic fiction for mass audiences. Many of the most enjoyable books I read last year came from small, independent publishers or were self-published by the authors.
The rise of indie publishing makes more books available to readers. But quantity is not what makes indie revolutionary. If all it did was increase the number of new vampire romances or zombie apocalypse stories released each year from a hundred to ten thousand, it would hardly be important. The greatest contribution of indie publishing is that it makes many different kinds of stories available to readers.
For a publishing business, the purpose of producing books is to make money. For many (but not all) indie writers, the purpose is simply because they have a need to create and share stories that are not like those coming out of the big publishing houses. Sure, indie writers would love to make piles of money, but few expect to, and I don’t think it’s why most of them write, especially those who are consciously not following the mass-market book trends. What this means for fiction readers is greater variety, more books, lower prices, and a better chance of finding a book that is fresh and wonderfully different.
I used to read about twenty new books a year. Now I read about seventy or eighty. The main reason for the increase is that I can now find more books that appeal to me. And, if this wasn’t enough, ‘indie’ eBooks tend to be much cheaper than their traditionally published counterparts. Many indie books are free. Not all of them are good of course, but not all the books published by traditional publishers are, either.
I have come to view traditional publishers as something akin to fast food chain restaurants. They offer items with wide appeal and consistent quality. I’ve found that some traditional publishers of speculative fiction tend to do this better than others do, but their variety remains limited and the difference between them is like that between Burger King and McDonalds. Indie publishers are more along the lines of local mom and pop diners. Some are good and some are not, but a few offer great things you cannot find anywhere else.
This is a good time for fiction writers. They can write stories they believe in and offer them directly to readers. It is a good time for readers whose tastes do not match those of the crowd. It is still difficult to find great books that match our individual tastes, but, because of the rise of indie publishing, those books are far more likely to be out there. What is now desperately needed is a way to sort through the many thousands of indie books available to find those that we’ll absolutely love. Variety is great, but it can be overwhelming.
*This is a slight exaggeration. Most popular books won’t have all of these elements. There is only so much, um, ‘stuff’ that will fit in any one bucket.
My brother sent me an email this morning, part of which said, “I have a friend who is interested in publishing poetry (sonets). He is elderly and doesn’t have a lot of cash to try this. How did you go about self publishing: costs, web sites, etc.”
So this is what I wrote back to him. I figured I’d share it on my blog because it summarizes much of what I’ve discovered so far.
An author can turn to several places now if they want to publish but still keep full rights to what they create. That’s always been one of the biggest problems with traditional agents and publishers, at least for the author. Amazon is probably the biggest and overall best because there are no up front costs and they have a wider distribution than any other single self-publishing outlet, such as Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple, or Smashwords. (Smashwords, however, I find the friendliest and easiest to use. I just don’t sell much through them. Most of my sales are eBooks for Kindle from Amazon.
Authors can publish their works digitally for Kindle through Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin). This uses your regular Amazon login information, and allows you to upload directly from ‘.doc’ files. It’s fairly intuitive to use, but there are guides available about how to do it.
Creating paperback editions can be done through Amazon’s Create Space (https://www.createspace.com/). Formatting for paperback is a bit more difficult, but it can be done. I did a post on one way to do this not long ago. It’s here if you want to see it: https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/my-self-publishing-adventure-episode-nine-formatting-your-book-for-paperback-publication/. The paperbacks you order for yourself for ‘proofs’ come at a discount, but you do have to pay for all but the first.
Once you have your books available for sale on Amazon, you can do a quick check of your status through Amazon’s Author Central (https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/home). I will caution that the reports you get from Author Central are not as accurate as those you get from KDP, for some reason.
As I said, all of these services through Amazon are free of up front costs for the author. Amazon does take a cut of sales, though. These are still considerably less than a traditional agent and publisher would take, and, of course, you retain full rights to your work, which I think is the biggest reason so many authors are now self-publishing.
Sounds good, right? What self-publishing means, though, is that the author does not get the support provided by traditional agents and publishers, and this is where the costs come in. Here are a few things someone considering self-publishing should consider:
1) Editing – It is tough to edit your own work, tougher than I ever imagined until I tried it. A good editor is also hard to find and expensive. For a full-length book of 100,000 words, you should count on outside editing costing as much as $6,000. It could be more or less depending on the services you need. A quick proofreading can cost just 2¢ a word ($2,000 for a regular novel). My advice for poor authors is to know someone who has editorial experience and owes you a favor. Failing that, edit your book yourself and beg your friends and family to proofread it.
2) Cover Design – This can cost as little as $100 to $200. I paid $200 for two covers. I got artwork for one and didn’t like it, so I created my own covers and ate the rest of the cost. I created my covers, which you can see on the “Novels” tab on my website, using the free image manipulation program, Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/), and Microsoft PowerPoint. Once you have determined the page count and size your paperback will be, Create Space can give you a template for the dimensions of the cover. Even if you only produce a digital edition, though, you still need a cover that can be displayed on websites.
3) Formatting – This you can do yourself, honestly. It’s not that hard if you are proficient with Microsoft Word. From a good Word .doc file, both KDP and Create Space can produce quality products for Kindle and trade paperbacks.
4) Marketing & Distribution – Now this is where the traditional publishers really have things sown up. They have access to book reviewers and to brick and mortar stores (those that are left) that self-publishers do not. They also may promote (advertise) your book, although I understand they don’t do this as much as they once did and now only really promote books they believe can be bestsellers. A self-published author, therefore, should have some online presence, such as a website, blog, Face Book page, Twitter account, and such. It also helps to establish a presence in forums such as Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/).
That’s a quick rundown of what I’ve leaned on my self-publishing adventure so far. Individual results may vary.
My Self-Publishing Adventure: https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/blog/my-self-publishing-adventure/
About a month ago, a friend and former coworker emailed this Salon article link, The Dreaded Amazon Breast Curve, to the members of our informal discussion and self-assigned world problem-solving group. Despite the article’s strange title, it is about authors, specifically independent authors, paying for reviews of their books.
The Salon story begins like this, “The fact that many authors pay services to write positive Amazon reader reviews of their books…”
Wait a minute! That’s not a fact! That’s the opposite of fact. It’s a fabrication, exaggeration, misinformation, politics, spin, a lie! It’s also not true. As it’s authority for this slanderous statement, the Salon article sites a report from the New York Times, The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.
At the time, I told my friends that the examples provided in these articles must be exceptions. Very few self-published authors would stoop to buying good reviews. For one thing, it costs money, and that’s something most indie authors have in short supply. Another thing is that it’s dishonest. As someone who should know, I confidently informed our little group that the generalizations and extrapolations made by these articles were simply unsound. The idea of authors buying good reviews seemed so ridiculous to me, I thought little more about it…
…Until, this morning. I was driving one of my kids to school, when I heard this report on the radio — Five Ways to Spot a Fake Online Review (from NPR). Now this report specifically focused on restaurant reviews, but it began by talking about authors buying or posting fake book reviews.
I don’t know about restaurants, but obviously rumors about how widespread the practice of buying misleading book reviews is continues. I still don’t believe it is common. In fact, I believe it’s relatively rare. I’m a self-published author. I sometimes stop by forums and read blogs by other authors, and the consensus about this seems to be that the idea of buying positive reviews is repulsive.
I have never and I will never pay someone to review my books. Asking for reviews is fine. Providing an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) or a promotional copy of a book to a potential reviewer is fine. But this is the only form of payment I think an author (or publisher) should ever offer, and promotional book copies must be given without any guarantee that a review — good, bad, or indifferent is forthcoming.
I probably read (or reread) about one-hundred novels a year. Most come from the public library, others I purchase, and I sometimes grab a free Kindle book during giveaways on Amazon when they sound like something I would like. I’ve reviewed several from all three sources. Normally, I post my reviews on this blog, on Amazon, and on Goodreads. Where I got the book has no impact on the likelihood of me writing a review. I have never and I will never accept money from an author to review one of his or her books. It would be inappropriate.
I believe there is a place for professional reviews and professional reviewers. I have no problem with reviewers being paid for unbiased reviews if they are employed by a magazine, newspaper, or similar media outlet, provided that the funding does not come from the authors, publishers, or anyone else with a financial interest in the books being reviewed.
I understand how hard it is for self-published authors to be noticed. I know this painfully well because I’m still struggling with it. So what, you might ask, is wrong with an unknown author paying for an honest review? How else will a new writer get attention?
Second question first — There are many, well, at least a few dozen websites that will consider reviewing books by self-published authors. Some only review indie books, and they do this impartially and without cost or any expectation of return favors. Some do it simply because they like reading and reviewing stuff they might not otherwise see. Search the web. You’ll find them.
First question second — The main reason authors should not pay for reviews is a matter of perception. It’s a matter of how the general book-buying public will perceive what is happening. We are not talking about paying someone to give you, as the author, an honest assessment of your book. We are talking about the author paying someone to tell the world how good his book is. Do you see the difference? Can you honestly not see why this might provide an impression of bias?
Authors live and die by reviews, especially independent authors. Traditional publishers don’t promote most of their authors as much as they once did perhaps, but one thing they do provide, by the very nature of being professional publishers, is a stamp of approval. A traditional publisher’s mark on a book tells readers that someone, other than the author and perhaps a few of his closest friends and family members, thinks his books are worth reading.
Chances are an indie author doesn’t have an agent, promoter, publisher, or anyone else helping him spread the news about his books. He needs his readers to help him do that, and one of the best ways his readers can help is by writing reviews. When the legitimacy of those reviews is called into question, what is left to show the world that someone thinks an indie author’s books are worth reading? Pretty much the author’s word for it, and no one expects him to be unbiased.
This is why reviews are so very important to indie writers. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say they are precious to them, and I believe this is why most indie authors are appalled at the idea of purchasing biased reviews. Doing so undermines the best way we have to build a reputation with readers.
I personally see the purchase of biased reviews as unethical, inconsiderate, and selfish. It’s also likely to backfire on the writer. Once it is discovered that he has paid for reviews, (or loaded Amazon with biased reviews he himself has written under bogus names) his work will be tainted. No matter how good it might be, the reviews will be discounted, even the honest ones from regular readers. If that taint fell only on the guilty, it would be poetic justice. But it is not that well targeted. It stains all of us.
- My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews
- The Importance of Book Reviews – Part 2
- My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Seven – The Motivating Power of Readers
- A List of Indie Book Reviewers
When I told my friends and relatives I had finally embarked on my life long goal to write fiction and had actually published something, they said, “Great! Where can I get it?” When I told them, their responses were much different. You see, my books are self published and there is still a stigma about self published books. Many believe self publishing is what you do when your stuff isn’t good enough for a “real” agent or publisher. My books were also ebooks and everyone knows “real” books are made of paper. My friends didn’t even have ebook readers and had no plans of getting one. I myself didn’t have one until this year so I couldn’t really say much.
When I tried to explain that I chose to self publish rather than seek a traditional agent and publisher, I was met with skepticism. “Yeah, right.” (This is the only case I know of in which two positives make a negative.) “You chose to do this?”
But I did. When I decided to begin writing seriously rather than just as a hobby, I initially intended to shop my work to agents and try to get my books published in print. I had compiled a list of agents, what they said they were looking for, and their submission guidelines. I had draft query letters prepared using the best guidance I could find from established agents. I did my homework and I was ready to go. I wanted two books completed before I approached an agent so I could prove I could deliver but when the time came, I had changed my mind.
Maybe it’s a mistake but rather than send out queries for my first book, The Warden Threat, to traditional agents and publishers, I chose to self publish. Why would I make self publishing my first option rather than a last resort? I know many other writers are struggling with the same decision so I thought I’d share the five main reasons for mine (in no particular order).
1: I’m unknown as a fiction writer. My paying job had nothing to do with fiction, at least intentionally, although some of the reports I had done did contain things that were fairly speculative. But the point is, in the world of fiction writing I had no name recognition, no following, and no brand. I assumed it would be very difficult and frustrating trying to get an agent to even look at my work. Agents turn down 99% of the submissions they receive, and all the time the author is waiting to hear back from them is time their book is not available to readers.
2: Self publishing is easy. With the rise of ebooks, there are several places that will allow authors to turn their manuscript into an ebook and publish it. The process is fairly easy and free. I chose Smashwords and Amazon because they seemed to be the industry leaders. Smashwords is the simplest. All you need is a Word document, suitably formatted, and a cover image. Smashwords creates ebooks in multiple formats for you, assigns an ISBN and distributes your book to multiple ebook retailers. Amazon required conversion of the Word file to HTML and then to a PRC format using free Amazon software. Both processes were well within my capabilities. The hardest part for me was coming up with covers but I eventually created some that I thought were simple and eye-catching using no special or expensive software.
3: The popularity of ebooks is growing. Amazon now reportedly sells more ebooks than it does paper books and the popularity of ebooks is still growing. I don’t see paper books going away (I hope they don’t), and I would love to see my books eventually become available in paper because it means more people will be able to read them, but I feel that ebooks are the future and it is good to get in on the ground floor. I see this as analogous to what happened in the music world with the rise of MP3 players. At one time I bought vinyl albums, tapes, and CDs. Probably more than I should have. But I have since converted my CDs to MP3 files and now normally only buy new albums as MP3 digital downloads.
4: With self publishing, authors can choose what compromises to make and what ones not to. I think authors, good authors anyway, write because they have things to say. Traditional publishing is a business and publishers have books they want to sell. There can be an inherent conflict in these two goals and I have heard that authors are sometimes asked to make changes to increase sales at the cost of their intended message. With self publishing, no one will tell you, “You can’t say that.” As your own publisher, you can decide if your story the way you want to tell it is more important than additional sales.
5: Self published ebooks can be the best bargain available for readers. Let’s face it. Times are tough for a lot of us and we have to stretch our budgets. As far as my reading habit or obsession went, I stretched mine by increasing the number of books I borrowed from the public library. I still buy hard copy books from my favorite authors as soon as they are released. I just preordered the latest book by Terry Pratchett for example. But for authors I never heard of, well, I might buy a paperback if it sounds good and the library doesn’t have a copy. But now there is a third option. Ebooks are cheap, normally less than the paperback version, if there is one, and many, especially the works of self published authors, can cost less than a buck. I wouldn’t expect readers to be willing to pay eight dollars for a paperback version of one of my books if they never heard of me and I’d feel guilty asking them to. But $2.99, $1.99, or even just 99 cents is probably affordable and worth the risk. I’m comfortable asking prices like that for my works. I think they are worth much more although my opinion is hardly objective. But until or unless I obtain a following, I doubt I will ever ask for more. My personal goal with my writing is not to make a lot of money. I don’t expect to. Most authors don’t. I just want my books to be read. Making them cheap seems a good way to do that.
I am not advocating self publishing for anyone. I have no idea if it will gain readers for my books. This is my first try and I haven’t been at it long. The start of my self publishing effort began the end of May 2011 with the creation of this blog. I published a “beta version” of my first two novels as an anthology in July and got some good feedback from beta readers. After a little more editing and polishing, I updated the anthology and released the first two books separately this month (September 2011). I will provide updates from time to time on this blog and probably on Facebook and Twitter on how well (or poorly) my books are faring. You are more than welcome to check back to find out.
Please let me know if any of this has been useful to you. I’d love to hear back from readers and writers about how they see ebooks and self publishing. Have you bought self published ebooks? If you have, what did you think? Do they provide good value for the money?