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05/05/2010

Welcome Blog Guest, Rob Walker

After much delay, some confusion, an email snafu, and a small blog glitch, KdBlog is finally ready to introduce very special blog guest, Rob Walker. Rob, thanks for your patience and welcome to KdBlog.

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                       E-Books and On Becoming an Indie Author/Publisher

                                             – Your Ticket to Success in Authorship

 

 

E-books and the electronic readers like the kindle are suddenly legion at schools, at writers conferences, even at ironically enough bookstores. I will never forget at a book signing when a lady pushing a baby carriage by stopped long enough to reach into the carriage to pull out her kindle to proudly flash before me to ask my wife, Miranda and I, “Are your books on Kindle?” We were ready for her, both of us replying, “Yes indeed.”

3 Million kindle e-readers have been sold since December of this year, perhaps more; this is the number I keep seeing in articles in The New Yorker and Newsweek. ,; the future is upon us and traditional publishing has reason to be concerned even if they don’t know it.  More and more authors are taking control of their content and making decisions that impact the content—what they create.

Traditionally, the working arrangement between publisher and writer has always been one of you turn over your creation and the publisher “takes all the risks” as if you are taking no risks in spending months if not years on a manuscript. However, since you are taking “no risks” like those faced by the publisher—business risks—the notion is you are now passive cargo and worth about 8 to 10 percent of each “unit” sold. Now all decision making is out of your hands, and you are supposed to go write another book in the event the first one sells well. Meanwhile, the publisher’s team—all of whom have pensions and paychecks—make the important decisions of pricing, placing, marketing, packaging, title, down to the font and colors on the cover.

In other words, all decisions made by committee, all of whom are making more money on books being pushed than the author. Think totem pole and the author is at the bottom, and wasn’t a camel a horse designed by committee? My point is when the book fails, the guy at the bottom of the totem pole is the one blamed as his/her numbers of unit sales is too low. So the business model for the author is pretty bleak, and has been since Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press; ninety nine percent of all novelists in the world cannot live on what they earn as writers. Could you live on eight percent of what you sell without health benefits or pension?

That said, let’s turn now to the business model for the author who is now an Independent Author/Publisher—and for starters, the Kindle contract is not an 8-10% cut but a 70/30 split with the 70 going to the author! Aside from this, the author makes all the decisions to package and price the book, no title fights, no arguments over hardcover vs. trade vs. mass market as none of these designations apply in e-books. The added attraction to doing e-books is control and a sense of freedom.

Publishers are as interested in change as glaciers, and for good reason—as they “take all the risks” and they take the lion’s share of the profits.  This is no more evident than now with the sudden growth of e-readers and e-readership as the big houses like Random House and Penguin and others are warring with Amazon.com over price-setting. They have always controlled the prices, and now suddenly millions of avid readers, rabid readers if you will (as kindle readers can go through forty books in a week) want their books at less than ten dollars—as Bezos, the head of Amazon promised them—“You buy a kindle, no kindle book on Amazon for more than 9.99.”

Fact is, Bezos wants the world to have access to any book you or I want “at the moment” or as close to NOW as Whispernet can make it happen. This is why Bezos named his device “Kindle” to “kindle the passion in readers and non-readers alike.”

By using the A-B-C directions at www.dtp.amazon.com, I now have some 43 novels for sale online via Kindle Book Store on Amazon.com. The e-books for out of print titles may require getting a company like www.blueleaf.com to convert an actual book to a scan to doc, and once you have a doc file it must be converted to HTML—which can be the most difficult part of the steps involved. If you already have a doc file of the book in question, you won’t have to send off a book to be scanned. I used Blue Leaf because their prices are three times cheaper than anyone else doing book scanning.

The most trouble involved in the process is converting the file to html and then in reviewing it, correcting the errors that will inevitably come up in the process of conversion—sometimes quite time consuming; however, once done and placed up on your kindle dashboard, the rest is smooth sailing. The results in terms of sales are astonishing.  In the old business model with traditional publishing wisdom has it that your price the book at the top end—as high as the market will bear. However, in the e-book model, the readers expect and demand low end pricing, very low end pricing. They are savvy readers who know that putting a book onto Kindle is a snap compared to printing on paper, paying for paper, warehousing paper, overhead for paper, paying PR people, paying marketing director and his staff, etc.  Since all of this “goes away” in e-book world, the readers expect far cheaper books in the manner Bezos envisioned – and why not?

It is for this reason that I listed most of my forty plus books on Kindle as 1.99 and 2.99. These books at this low end rate are selling like a river flowing, while my three titles placed up by Harper Collins—priced at exactly the same price as the paper books at 6.99—are sitting there like three stones (no sale) while my novels like Children of Salem at 2.99 are my bestselling titles. I earned 400 dollars last month on books priced at the lowest end of the scale, while my hardcover novel in the same month earned zip.  In one year, I earned a mere 141 dollars on my traditionally published hardcover DEAD ON, while in one month, I earned 400 dollars on my lowly 1.99 and 2.99 specials.  What does this kind of economic comparison say about the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things?

The really disheartening thing that drop’s an author’s hopes and heart like a stone are a thing called “Returns” – and a writer does not earn out his advance and royalties until “returns” are “returned” from the booksellers. This is an old and out of date business element in book publishing and bookselling.  It is the only business wherein the product can be returned for full or close to full price if the buyer cannot sell the product. Until all “returns” are in, the author is kept in the dark about sales numbers, and even if he or she can get the sales numbers, there is always the warning that this is “before” returns. After returns then you can “believe” your royalty statement. That and AFTER everyone else—like the distributor of said units—gets their cut. Then the agent takes his or her cut. Pretty soon what trickles down as leftover change makes its way to the author.

In e-books, a disappointed reader returns a book, not the bookseller; Amazon.com will never “return” a book to you, the author/publisher. Essentially, there are no returns—perhaps eleven in a year, maybe twelve, but it is all done electronically as in credit to the account.  Now  then, once the traditional publisher is DONE with a book or a series and declares they will buy no more titles in a series or they will discontinue selling a title, what happens to the book or series? They go out of print; they become Ops which can only be found in used book stores or via Amazon cooperative used book stores. Out of prints pretty much means the book is dead and it was believed, up till now, dead forever—except in used book stores or on “remainder” tables.

In the world of e-books, guess what. There is no out of prints until which time the author decides to deep six or kill a book (once again the author decides). No author I know wants a beloved title to be out of print. No one wants his or her book to be “Remaindered” either. This is when a book is overstocked in a warehouse when THEY decide to sell it off at ten or five cents on the dollar to rid it from the warehouse, so it winds up at Costco or Wal-Mart with a big discount slapped on it while Costco pays ten cents a book and charges the reader five or seven bucks, and the author gets zero on such sales. In e-book world, there is no such animal as a “Remainder” e-book. Next to no returns, no “stripped” covers, and no remainders, and no warehousing, and no need of a lot of the flotsam of traditional “dead tree” publishing.

We need a Beetles song for e-book publishing; something along the lines of Imagine…Imagine a world without rancor between author and publisher as he is the same person! The sense of control and freedom comes with “If the book fails, I have only myself to blame.” Whereas in traditional publishing, “If the book fails, we have no one to blame but the author (as we put up the advance funds, the costs of printing, costs of salaries to committees, cost of distribution, cost of mailings, costs of returns, and eating the remainders—so it must be that the reading public just does not like this author, so in the end it must be his fault we did not sell enough units, and 50,000 units is not enough!).

So how can you get started in becoming an Indie Author/Publisher? Take a close look at www.smashwords.com and give it a shot; put up an article like my RN wife, Miranda Phillips Walker did on Kicking the Migraine Monkey off Your Back. She placed it up on Smashwords and then onto Kindle. The process for each is similar, and working with a short document is a good way to get a feel for the protocol of becoming your own publisher. It may at first be frustrating, but go at it a second time, and try to do it when you are not tired. Go to www.dtp.amazon.com as this is where the real action is and most readers! Finally, if you are having too many problems and the confusions and frustrations are too many, go to your son, daughter, nephew, niece or neighborhood computer geek for a spot of help. There are also folks online popping up daily who will help you for a price.

As for cover art, this too can become a problem if you are not proficient with images and placing lettering over images. I am not, so I get my son onto this project, and he is a genius with creating cover art (see any one of my titles for example: Killer Instinct, Disembodied, Children of Salem). Stephen’s found at www.srwalkerdesigns.com but there are many others online who do this for a price as well.  In the event you want a POD paper book option as well as an e-book, you might want to work with www.wordclay.com for a print on demand paperback version, and there I found creating a cover using their template relatively easy once I got the hang of it. If you approach all of it as “practice run” with the expectation it may take you at least two runs at this, you will not become so overly upset with yourself as to quit on it before you are successful.

Oh my…I just earned $100 more in the last twenty-four hours from my ebooks! Well enough of that! This about covers it. If you have any questions, please leave a comment!

Robert W. Walker


ChildrenCover

Award-winning author and graduate of Northwestern University ROBERT W. WALKER created his highly acclaimed INSTINCT and EDGE SERIES between 1982 and 2005.  Rob has since written his award-winning historical series featuring Inspector Alastair Ransom with CITY FOR RANSOM (2006), SHADOWS IN THE WHITE CITY (2007), and CITY OF THE ABSENT (2008). This history-mystery hybrid straddles the Chicago World’s Fair circa 1893, and has had enthusiastic reviews from Chicago historians and the Chicago Tribune, which likened “the witticism to Mark Twain, the social consciousness to Dickens, and the ghoulish atmosphere to Poe!”   Rob’s most recent book is DEAD ON, a PI’s tale of revenge as a reason to live—set in modern day Atlanta. An unsold but completed novel entitled CUBA BLUE features a female detective in Havana who investigates a multiple murder of three doctors from America and Canada (co-authored with Lyn Pokabla).  The current work in progress is CURSE of the TITANIC, another theory of why Captain Edward Smith sank the Titanic as I put a plague-spreading monster on board (two concurrent stories of present day and historical suspense and horror). Rob’s completed, next historical suspense is CHILDREN of SALEM, while an historical romance and suspense novel, it pulls no punches in exposing the evil and the many sad truths of any theocracy— this one surrounding the court and people who allowed neighbor to hang neighbor in the Salem Witchcraft episode in grim 1692 New England, which one professional editor remarked on:  Only Robert Walker could make this work—romance amid the infamous witch trials. For more on Rob and his published works, see www.robertwalkerbooks.com , www.HarperCollins.com , www.acmeauthorslink.blogspot.com , www.makeminemystery.blogspot.com , www.dirtydeeds-advice.blogspot.com

Comments

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Rob, I really got a lot out of this article. I have one novella on Kindle but it's way overpriced--I need to see if I can lower it. Was thinking about publishing short stories this way. That's a tough print market but it might do well as an ebook. Anyway, thanks for the practical advice. I might come knocking on your door for more once I get some more projects ready. :)

Rob,

Excellent article! I'm bookmarking it for future reference. I agree with you about Kindle. I haven't done it yet but definitely will in the future.

Glad to see that you are doing so well. A lot of what you say is spot on. Kindle and the like do make it much easier for an author, in many regards they make it easier for publishers too. Despite your newfound good fortune it is sad to see such sweeping generalizations:

"Publishers are as interested in change as glaciers, and for good reason—as they “take all the risks” and they take the lion’s share of the profits."

This may be the case for major houses with huge distribution, but in the indy sector there are limited and very small profits, if any. Some authors contracts actually end with negative figure (and this is before returns).

I see these kinds of comments all over the place and it does make me cringe as not all publisher are evil. SOme actually care and go out of their way to help their authors and to sell books. But if an aspiring author came in and read this note and many, many others like it, they would believe that ALL publisher are out to get them. Just not the case. There are plenty of good opportunities out there with good publishers who do care about ALL aspects of the industry.

"In e-books, a disappointed reader returns a book, not the bookseller; Amazon.com will never “return” a book to you, the author/publisher"

Not true, as a publisher I experience returns at Kindle each month--it is true I don't get a physical item, but I still lose that money--I am NOT paid for those returns originally sold. The price is deducted from the total due. A return is still a loss of revenue.

There are so many factors involved in this business and it is awesome that there are so many opportunities for people in the book industry, but I again ask, why does it always have to be one or the other--us against them?

As authors, do what is best for YOU. It is YOUR career. Some authors are just meant to self-publish and that is not at all a bad thing. But for others, it just isn't the way to go. But when you are doing what is best for you, try not to run down the others.

Karen - My remarks regarding publishers are directed at large houses like Random, Penguin Putnam, NYC houses that would rather chase a trend than publish good literature; YOU are correct, as this is NOT the case with medium and smaller publisher like your own Echelon which obviously cares about authors and good books! I have had much better personal relations with smaller presses and publishers like yours and like Five Star for instance. I did mean my remarks for the kind of cut up job done me and mot midlist authors by major publishers.

As to the returns, I agree, you lose money on Kindle returns as you would any returns but it is the CUSTOMER deciding to return, not the SYSTEM that allows a book only one or two weeks time on the shelf before ALL copies of a book are returned by the bookstore to the publisher who then retallys your so-called earnings. And as I said NO REMAINDERS and no Used Books (shared books yes, but even those are limited).

I appreciate your point of view and I was glad you dropped by and brought up these points for clarification.

Rob

What great information! Rob, you are such a sweetheart to share so much with us. I'll print what you wrote so I can be sure I'll get my work up there. Thanks!

Those are impressive figures. Are you spending hour promoting yourself on the Kindle boards and social networks? I'm working with Belgrave House on getting my earlier futuristics into eBook format.

Not to mention, completely and totally self-published authors like Karen McQuestion, who has sold more than 30,000 novels since July of last year on Kindle. Yes, her prices are lowish-$1.99 or so...but 30,000 units? Those figures add up.

For those non-techie authors, there are people and entities out there who will convert your novel to epub (Nook) and Kindle editions for reasonable fees, particularly if you have the digital files. I do this myself for some of my clients! Authors with backlist titles and new content that isn't readily finding a publisher should definitely consider epublishing.

A very interesting article...I had one of the first Ebooks, the RCA...issues with getting content, finally made it obsolete. The 2nd version came out,and I bought that too...did I like it? Not so much..Now I have the Kindle,and have content galore, but often find my fave authors books not available. I still go to the library, read paper books,and listen to books on tape...I am open to ebjoying agood book, any way I can..:)

Thanks for the reminder that after converting to HTML, I will have to re-edit the books for errors. I am waiting for help with the HTML because it is so daunting every time I try to figure it out. Most posters about Kindle make it sound so easy!
Pat

What a great post, Rob. And you've hit the nail on the head when it comes to the value of ebooks and why authors should be selling their books via this platform.

Once an author gets their ebooks up on Amazon, KoboBooks, Smashwords etc, they'll understand the potential--especially that THEY control their ebook rights.

I recently got back my ebook rights from an old publisher and it's exciting to watch the sales come in. I currently have two thrillers (Divine Intervention and The River) available on Kindle, Kobo and Smashwords.

And my bestselling, critically acclaimed novel Whale Song is available exclusively at KoboBooks.com for this month. After that, it'll be available at other ebook retailers. Again, I control that.

The process of uploading to the various ebook retailers can be a bit daunting, and there are often glitches in the formats, but even as a reader I know that I might view a book that is less than perfectly formatted. As long as it's readable, I don't mind the odd glitch--like a blank page.

Once you get the hand of it, uploading becomes easier. Like anything, it can be learned and is difinitely something not to be dreaded, though I do know a few authors who are intimidated by the ever-changing book world and ebooks in general.

Ebooks are revolutionizing the way we read, and there's no escape. (insert evil laugh)

All the best and thank you for sharing your wisdom on the world of ebook publishing.

Thank YOU, KD, for featuring Rob as a guest here.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling suspense author
http://www.cherylktardif.com

My ebooks on Kindle:
http://www.tinyurl.com/29ysxx8

My ebooks on KoboBooks:
http://tinyurl.com/24e73tl

I forgot to mention...

Rob, I LOVE the cover of Children of Salem!!! Chillingly awesome! :-)

Cheryl

Hi, Rob,

Thanks for sharing your experiences in ePublishing. Networking with fellow authors is so helpful, an asset we can all nurture. "as interested in change as glaciers" -- nice simile. :-) Wishing you continued success!

As always Rob's advice is wise, snappy, and bordering on prophetic. Big changes are afoot and to paraphrase publisher Amy Einhorn, the majors (and everyone else) need to remember they're in the content delivery business--not the book business.

Me, I love printed books, and hope always to have one--but not more than one--in my hands at all times.

But I'm thrilled for those who love e readers to have this frontier to explore.

The problem I see is that content is going to proliferate and so one of the plusses you cite (authorial control) will also become one of the minuses. How many authors will be savvy enough to recognize the need for further editing when it is there? How many will decide they might as well do the cover, too, even with no training in (or aptitude for) art?

I'm not talking about any of the authors who may be out there now, but we probably all know members of a writing group who really did need a few more years spent honing their craft before seeking publication. When it's as easy to publish as this, will due diligence be done? Or will the temptation to "throw it out there and see" be too great?

You know how movies written, directed, and produced by one guy usually turn out.

And as content proliferates, how will we find our way to the Rob Walkers and Karen McQuestions (to name but two) out of the masses and masses of work?

For sure the majors are missing great books and publishing many that aren't so great. I'm not saying they've got it down to a science.

This is more art than science, after all.

But the majors and accompanying parts of the system--agents--have pretty good at checks and balances in place and serve as gatekeepers for the utterly unschooled.

My question is a pretty eternal one. How do we know art? And then, how do we sell it?

Thanks everyone for stopping by; am going to try to address your concerns. I too have concerns, Jenny, about proliferation of BAD writing or more precisely unschooled writing; I see plenty of it as an instructor at the college level believe you me. I do believe though when readers are offered SAMPLES of chapters as has been the practice in ebooks, and I have first 20 pgs of Children of Salem as a FREE pdf file on my website (do ye no love the word FREE?). I think this off-sets buying really putrid writing. I can tell in five pages if a book is readable or not (I edit, ghost write as well).
CHERYL - all my ebook cover art is done by my son the graphic artist/genius I raised just for this purpose as it so hapens; he was born on the Bicentennial Year and I had all this planned you see - send him off to graphic school and viola...hehehhehehe...method to my madness. Actually Five Star used his cover concept for Dead On with the hardcover! That never happens hardly ever... Oh and congratulations on your ebook successes, wow!
PAT - I have it on GOOD AUTHORITY that if you send a doc file or pdf file to any friend or relative who has gmail that it is automatically converted to html. I have not verified this or tried it out yet, but someone told me this after reading the article. Even so, once converted over to html, the document needs another thorough vetting/edting as glitches and weird stuff crops up unaccountably.
KA - I had not heard this about McQuestion but Joe Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn) sold 37,000 copies last year of his various ebooks. I have finally got 44 up and hoping this will be my year. That is that ebook readers will discover me anew! I love it that I have an entirely new, young audience to go after.
Someone here asked about promotion and marketing. This has been hard to find, esp. ebook reviewers - when is an entire crop of ebook reviewers going to be born? I have had good fortune with www.kindlekorner@yahoogroups.com as they love my input and a number have picked up my books and they comment on them, and the moderator began reviewing kindlekorner author's books - or rather putting up our pitches for the books in a special korner of his own - way cool. Also there are the Kindle Boards at Amazon. There is a facebook kindle out there somewhere. In all of these you need to interact on the questions raised and not entirely BSP yourself right off these lists. I also use facebook twitter, myspace, and chat groups like www.murdermustadvertise and DorothyL to chat up where I am blogging for instance and am doing four separate blogs at the moment!!
Finally, it really helps when your good friends and contacts mention a good book with your name on it.

Thanks again to all yous guys!
Rob Walker
Disembodied is up now at kindle

Rob, thanks for your reply. Also, everyone, Karen McQuestion has done me the honor of writing a Made It Moment for suspenseyourdisbelief--I'll post on DL and MMA when it goes up in a week or so! Lots of answers to these and other questions...

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