Friday, December 31, 2010

Decision Point #1 - Time to market

So the past few days have seen a pretty heated debate over self-publishing verses traditional publishing. I want to try and offer some perspective to this that I started in my last post.


It appears that there are two camps pretty deeply entrenched with a fair amount of mud slinging on either side. But what it comes down to is either path is a viable alternative you just have to decide which is best for you. I'm going to take a "aspect" a day and comment on things to consider. Today's topic is time to market.

Traditional publishing is slow...really slow...really really really slow. If you don't have patience and a lot of it then you'll just frustrate yourself by going this route. Some things to consider.

If you go traditional you really need an agent - trying to break into this without one makes little to no sense - finding an agent can take months or years. It took me over 6 months to get Michael's first agent and ultimately that relationship resulted in nothing. It is not unusual to have to go through literally hundreds of rejections before getting one. J. A. Konrath reports he had 500 rejections, Michael had 102. Your mileage may vary, but speaking in general terms this is going to be a long process with many many queries.

Once you find an agent, they may suggest a number of re-writes to your project to make it more marketable. Whether you do these or not is of course up to you but if you have a very reputable agent (which why would you sign with anyone but) then they know the industry better than you do. They don't get paid unless you do so if they are offering suggestions it is probably in your best interest to listen.

Now you have the book re-written, its time for submission. This can be a very long process. Again Michael's first agent "shopped it around" for 8 months and got no where. Now, on the other hand Michael's second agent got a deal in 2 weeks...but this was a MUCH different situation that most of those choosing this route won't be in. Michael had already built a following by self-publishing and his sales were going through the roof. His agent basically set the parameters as in - respond with interest in xx days or I'm moving on. This is a common practice but they can't really "play that card" with someone new with no track record so you'll probably be in the submit...wait...submit....wait process that can easily take another year.

Now you get the offer - yeah! But the book is realistically 12 - 18 months from bookstore shelves. Seriously? Yes seriously. The issue is that publishers plan out their release schedules and the day you sign they already have the next several quarters "scheduled" and there is no room for your book. "Okay you say, they'll put me in the next open spot." Well probably not. There is much that has to be considered.

a) They will want to edit - this may mean a few simple grammar fixes or restructuring of the book - Again this doesn't happen overnight - it may take months. But until they have a manuscript that is "ready" it's not going on any schedule.

b) They need to get ARC copies to reviewers. Book List, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal all want advanced reading copies 4 - 5 months before publication date so there is a delay of at least that amount of time.

c) There are many departments that must get involved: Marketing, Cover Design, Sales. The good news is you now have a "team" working for you. The bad news is this team does not work "exclusively for you". As a new author you may not have the most "mind share" of these departments and so it may take quite some time for them to do what they have to.

So...All told it probably will take years from the time you say "yes I want to go traditional" before your book gets on the shelf.

Self-publishing on the other hand has a very short time frame. It's not zero as some might think but it is smaller. Some things you'll want to do if you self-publish.

1 - Even though you think your book is "fully edited" - think again. People are VERY unforgiving on ANY errors in a self-pub book. There are typos in traditional press books all the time but people just shrug and go - oops someone made a mistake. When one is found in a self-pub book there are those that are willing to shout at the top of their lungs "See, this is self-published trash - no editing - I'm applaud". Bottom line if you are self-publishing edit, edit, edit again and then once you think you are done edit it more. Ideally, you'll have someone other than you doing this. It can be a fellow writer friend, a freelancer you hire, even a loved one. But you need to take at least 5 - 10 passes over the work...edit it to the point where you can't stand to look at it again and then you'll be ready. I would anticipate 3 - 6 months for this.

2 - Cover design - should not be overlooked. It is probably one of the most important aspects to self published books. Your trick is to make your book "not" look self-published. A cover that stands up against the best of what NY puts out. Some that I recommend as examples:

Anything by Michael ;-) (Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising, Emerald Storm, Wintertide, Quarter Share, Half Share, and many more.

Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish - it follows a trend similar to other books in this genre and to be honest when I first saw it I didn't think it was self-published - this is exactly what you want to strive for.

Fifth Avenue by Christopher Smith - simple but striking - notice in particular the use of color (red) and the bold font of the title. - Very well done.

Disintegration by Scott Nicholson - again, can't tell from a NY published house

Kill & Cure by Stephen Davison - really invokes the mood of the story he is trying to tell

Favortite by Karen McQuestion - striking.

Each of these books are, not surprising, selling extremely well. And in particular - please notice the use of "title font" - which to be honest sounds like a "silly thing" but to me the typography of the cover is the first thing that tells me "self published" - I don't want to out anyone but look at some of the best seller's lists and if you see some "amateur" type placement/treatment - you'll know it is a self-published novel - your goal is to ensure that you don't come off this way so you'll have to spend time on this (either yourself or by hiring someone) - again allow for about a month - but can be done in parallel with editing if you are using other resources.

I'll also include in the "cover design" writing of the back of the book blurb - you might think - "Hey Robin, this won't be on the bookstore shelf so what do I care about the back of the book" - well it is going to be seen over and over as your description so you better hone it - probably more important than anything else in your book - except the first sentence/paragraph - Again don't just "throw something together" write it -- sleep on it rewrite it try other versions, post on boards and ask for opinions. From the day you "start" your blurb until the day you are done should be about 3 weeks - All told you should easily put 10 - 30 hours into the task.

Formatting and layout - this is the fastest - I can do a kindle conversion from word in 1 - 3 hours. Michael can layout a book in about 4 hours.

Posting - Kindle posts take a few days to go live. Print books will require some proofing. About 2 days after posting you can "order your proof" it will take 2 - 5 days to reach you depending on if you pay for rush shipping. Then you may need to "tweek it" once you see the proof. So another few days there. Then once you push "go live" it can take 2 - 5 days to actually show up on Amazon.

So all told self-publishing should be about a 3 - 6 month process to get it on the shelf.

Can you do it faster - I recommend If you self-publish you have to be like Hertz and "try harder" you have to give no ammunition for people to point and say - inferior quality the standards have to be at the same high level as that produced by New York.

So, in aware that if you chose traditional you'll have to be patient, if you get "antsy" and pester people (your agent, your editor, the marketing staff) you'll accomplish nothing but piss them off and resulting in not wanting to work hard for you. If you can't live with that...then self publishing will be more full filling to you in the long run.

Next up....Control - see ya tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The debate has shifted...but still rages on

I've been involved in "indie publishing" now for about 3 years. By indie I mean bringing books to the market without the backing of the traditional industry leaders that rely heavily on a system based on retail store sales.

When I started publishing I always heard, "If you aren't published through a traditional publisher it must be because your books are no good."

What I see now is, "If you are published through a traditional publisher you're a fool because they treat author's poorly, give them only crumbs, and steal as much of the money as possible."

I love J.A. Konrath's blog, A newbie's guide to publishing if you are not reading it - bookmark it now. There was a little "debate" spurred there recently about whether you should self-publish or not based on a contrary opinion posted here by Jude Harden.

As someone with one foot in each door, Michael's about to be picked up by one of the big-six after years of indie published, I want to present a case for both sides. It really is not a matter of right or wrong its a matter of what your goals are.

Self Publishing Pros....
1 - Total control
2 - 100% of profits
3 - Increased time to market
4 - Modest to no start-up costs

Self Publishing Cons....
1 - Perception: There will always be those that say you are there because you "couldn't make it"
2 - Smaller market
3 - Divided time
4 - Must work harder to produce same quality

Traditional Pros
1 - Larger Team with diverse skills
2 - Much larger market penetration
3 - Bookstore presence
4 - Opportunity to "break-out"

Traditional Cons
1 - Lack of control
2 - Long time to market
3 - Smaller piece of the pie

I don't want to enumerate each of these points just now - but will over the course of the next few days...Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The State of e-book (2010)

There is NOTHING going on in publishing right now that is more exciting than ebooks. Period. What is most amazing to me, is that it still is so much in its infancy. Here are some recent numbers from Publisher's Weekly's article based on numbers from the 3rd Quarter Report from Bowker PubTrack.

  • 20% of readers reported in October that they are likely to buy an e-reader compared to just 10% in the 2009
  • just over 10% of readers in September and October said they read e-books on a daily or weekly basis compared to only about 3% a year ago.
  • e-books accounted for 4.2% of sales in Q3 (up from 3.2% from Q2, and 1.7% from Q3 2009)

4.2% -- Seriously? As someone through publishes through the "indie" venues (ebook and POD) my sales are are highly skewed toward e-books and reflect almost 180 degrees from those numbers. Looking at December MTD sales for Michael's books shows

  • 2,829 Crown Conspiracy (187 Print, 2,642 ebook: 6.6%/93.4%)
  • 1,740 Avempartha (96 Print, 1644 ebook: 5.5%/94.5%)
  • 1,700 Nyphron Rising (73 Print, 1627 ebook: 4.3%/95.7%)
  • 1,527 Emerald Storm (94 Print, 1,433 ebook: 6.2% / 93.8%)
  • 1,527 Wintertide (147 Print, 1,380 ebook: 9.6% / 90.4%)

Michael should break 10,000 book sales in December mostly ebooks priced at $4.95 and the latest one at $6.95. Looking at ONLY ebook sales his December income (not gross) from ebooks could be as high as $34,000 - in a single month. (It depends on how many of those sales turn out to be from overseas purchases which are at a 35% royalty rather than the 70% royalty).

Amanda Hocking is tearing up the self-published e-book space selling more than 50,000 copies in December alone and her total sales now top 100,000 books!

In a rare move, Amazon (who is notoriously tight lipped about the number of kindle ebook readers it has sold) reported that in the first 73 days of the holiday seasons it sold "Millions" (that's plural) of kindles which surpassed ALL kindle sales for 2009.

I think 2010 will go down as the real starting point for ebooks. The fact that kindle now has multiple competitors (nook, Sony eReader, iPad, etc.) shows that finally the tipping point has been reached but at only 4.2% there is so much opportunity for growth.

If you don't have ebook versions of your books on Kindle and B&N you should be running...not walking to get these out right away. To ignore doing so is leaving huge untapped revenue that could produce enough income to make writing full time more than just a dream for many new authors.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A sorry day...

Let me start by saying I'm a fan of Amazon. No, let me restate that...I'm a HUGE fan of Amazon. I think they have done more for independent publishing than any other company and I can't thank them enough for the opportunity they have afforded me and the authors I represent.

But...I'm VERY disappointed in the recent developments involving removal of books. Apparently, they are concerned about "objectionable material" and therefore have stopped selling a number of print and ebooks. While I support any company to decide what they will and will not sell, I think this is a bad decision on Amazon's part. They carry far too many titles to be able to properly "police objectionable content" and therefore the removal will, by its very nature, be unfair and discriminatory. Some author's will have their books removed, while others will still be available even though they both contain similar "objectionable material."

This will be a nightmare, as certain authors cry out WHY ME while you let xyz stay? Mistakes will be made and some books will be removed even though they contain no objectionable information. And how exactly does Amazon define objectionable material in the first place?

As they have done with many aspects before, Amazon might put the responsibility into the "readers" hands. It seems likely they will add a link that can be used if someone deems a book objectionable. If this is the case, couldn't jealous authors flag the books of their biggest competition? Are they going to hire hundreds or thousands of readers and train them on what is acceptable and what is not? I don't see anyway they can manage this.

I think they should let "the market decide". If people find something objectionable, they shouldn't buy it. If they bought it and THEN found out it was objectionable, allow them to return it.

Regardless of the practicality of saying which material can be sold and which cannot, there is an even darker side to this development...Amazon has removed these "objectionable" titles from people's Kindles. This is nothing less than theft. Amazon is setting a terrible precedent of sneaking into people's virtual bookshelves in the middle of the night and snatching away something that's been bought and paid for. They're not even refunding the money the people paid for these items. In what world is this not the same as stealing? Amazon has money it their pocket, but the reader no longer has what they paid for. I can't see how this won't go to court and Amazon will absolutely lose and pay thousands in court costs and then have to refund the money of all the books removed.

I beg Amazon...please return the books for people who paid for them. Or, at the very least, return the money you took. As for determining what books will be sold and which ones will not? Well unless you want to hire a few thousand readers to read each book submitted I suggest you let anything be posted and then let those who are buying decide whether the book is good or bad, but don't remove them from the shelves.

That's my 2 cents worth.

Monday, December 13, 2010

X-mas Presents from Amazon

There are two developments that Amazon has implemented lately that are a HUGE boon for authors.

1 - They now provide free Nielson BookScan data. This is the defacto standard on how many printed books are sold through various channels. I've coveted access to this data for years. Anyone who spends any time marketing knows that tracking figures is essential for knowing what promotions are working and what are not. Access to this data costs large publishers thousands of dollars to get access - Amazon worked some deal with Nielson to give it free to anyone in the Author Centeral program. If you are a author and have not signed up for Author Centeral (You should have regardless of this development) - run don't walk as you'll want to review this important information.

NOTE: Bookscan data should be used to compare against itself - it is notoriously inaccurate as it does not receive data from many venues. Still if you are doing some marketing this month and you want to see how your sales are being affected - it can help to see the differences.

2 - The ability to "gift kindle books" - Another great feature for those in e-books, people who have enjoyed a title can send it to a friend, even if they don't have a kindle (they can read it on the computer, ipad, etc. While some people might attempt this feature to "game" the rankings system - I highly suggest you don't go this approach. For those interested in how it works.
  1. You buy a kindle book (and are charged immediately
  2. The person you send it to gets and email with the "gift" in it - they can either redeem it to get the ebook you suggested or "cash it in" for a gift card (for instance if they already have that particular book)
  3. Your account is credited with the sale when they accept the gift (not when you pay). If they opt for the gift card - you won't register any sale.

There are many people who have "issues" with Amazon - I personally know people who will "never buy from them". I don't understand where this comes from. For an author, especially an indie author, there is no bigger friend to you than Amazon.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Forget Gutenberg - the real publishing revolution is now

People, including me, have been saying for years there is a major shake-up in the publishing industry. But that's not to say that ebooks mean the death of print, nor that traditional publishing is a dinosaur which will soon face extinction. What it does mean is there has never been a better time to be an author.

In the not too distant past, self-publishing or (small press publishing) was seen as the last resort for the desperate. Only those that could not "make it" in the traditional print world resorted to this avenue. Many critics stated with impunity that self-published author's work wasn't worth the paper (or ebook) it was produced on. After all, if they were any good they would have been picked up a big traditional publisher. Right?


There are many fantastic writers who have never been published. It wasn't that their writing was no good. The reasons that prevented them from publication are many: bad timing, not finding the right advocate, giving up too soon, not "spinning" the pitch effectively. I could go on and on, but it comes down to this: too many great stories and too few slots available.

Now comes the revolution. Just as Gutenberg changed publishing in 1440, technology has provided authors with even greater advances:

  • Amazon and other on-line retailers: offer infinite shelf-space without co-op fees giving authors large and small the same opportunity to connect with a horde of readers.
  • POD (print on demand): eliminates a significant amount of the financial risk which has plagued print publishing. No longer does a publisher (or author) have to shell out thousands of dollars to produce and warehouse pallets of books.
  • eBook Readers (Kindle, iPad, nook): electronic books have existed since information first started being transmitted electronically, but when read on a computer screen only a few early adopters dipped their toes in that water. The Kindle had changed all that. Now before you say, “But wait, you’ve been telling me for years that ebooks are the real deal and they still only account for 8.25% of book sales. Why should I believe you that now is the time they will really take off?” That can be answered in one word: Competition. Companies like Sony, Apple, and Amazon KNOW there is a market. This is the wave of the future, but it took these industry heavy weights to provide a mechanism that the reading population would embrace.

    So what does this all mean? It means that you, as an author, have more options than ever before. The barriers between you and the reader are breaking down. The financial risk of “doing it yourself” has decreased to zero for e-books and less than $70 for print books (paying for ISBN fee, and Createspace setup costs).

    More and more authors are abandoning traditional printing in lieu of doing it themselves: The most notable examples are New York Times Best Selling Author Seth Godin and self-publishing advocate J. A. Konrath. Now, before you say, “But they have established fan bases after years of traditional publishing. What chance do I, a nobody, have given I have no readership?”

    My answer is simple. People, just like you, are doing it…time and time again. Need some examples?

    Michael J. Sullivan (my husband) produced his first book in October 2007 through a small press and is now publishing through my own small press (so essentially self-published). From Mar 2010 – Sep 2010 he averaged 1,000 books a month) in October he sold 2,400, November 7,500 and if sales stay on track for December he could top 10,000 copies sold.

    Amanda Hocking started self-publishing in the spring of 2010 (March and April). In June she sold 4,258 copies across 3 books. In August she sold 4,873 copies making over $9,000 (six-digit income at those rates). In November she topped 20,000 books, but wait…in December she sold 10,000 copies (across 7 titles) in the first WEEK of December. Yes that’s over 1,400 books a day.

    David Daglish has several fantasy books and writes full time. He sold 2,366 books in November.

    But you don’t have to have multiple books. Victorine Lieske’s, Not What She Seems was released in April 2010 in Kindle and July 2010 in print and she sold 2,670 books in November.

    These are not isolated cases here are just a few of the authors I know of that sold more than 1,000 books in November 2010. Here are some others: David McAffee, end_of_the_skype_highlightingNathan Lowell, Ellen Fisher, Valmore Daniels, Terri Reid, Richard Jackson, Karen Cantwell, Margaret Lake, HP Mallory, KA Thompson, Beth Orsoff, Lexi Revellian, Tina Folsom, Bella Andre, B. V. Larson, Ty Johnson, Vicki Tyley, Marilyn Lee, Felicity Heaton, LJ Sellers, Jeremy Bishop, Robert Wilson, Susan Bishoff, Edward C. Patterson,Christopher Smith, Susan Bischoff, and Imogen Rose.

    So, if you’re an author looking to “break into the biz” there’s never been a better time to take the plunge. Whether you decide to follow the traditional publishing route or attempt to “go it on your own” the barriers are down and your only limited by your own determination.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Seth Godin and Publishing

Do you know who Seth Godin is? If you don't you should. He literally wrote the book(s) on marketing in the digital age (12 NYT Best Sellers) - which has particular significance to writing. Why? Because publishing has been a dinosaur operating the same way it has for 100 years but it can no longer continue to do so. Like a snowball rolling down a hill the publishing executives are finally catching on that what has worked in the past, isn't necessary the best approach for the future.

I could fill this blog with a ton of entries filled with insights from this marketing giant, but I would like to focus on one item in particular. Although he has published 13 books through traditional publishing he won't be doing so any more.

Is he retiring? No, he will still continue to put out content, but he won't be using a publisher as a middleman. I suspect this means he'll be doing one or all of the the following:

  • Putting out information via his blog
  • Self-publishing with ebooks
  • Self-publishing print books

Instead of repeating everything he says, you can go read it for yourself here.

Now why am I bringing this up on this blog? Because he has some interesting things to say in particular about the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing while you are there, I suggest you look Seth's body of work - a lot of what I talk about here is mirrored by him and if you implement even a fraction of the techniques he talks about you'll be hugely successful.

Yes, I'm still alive

I know it has been MUCH too long since I've posted to this blog - but I'm committed to changing that and will be more active in the future.

Why have a I been away so long? Well a few reasons.

#1 - The Riyria Revelations: My husband's six-book fantasy series now has 5 of the six books released (The Crown Conspiracy Avempartha Nyphron Rising The Emerald Storm Wintertide). A great deal of my energy has gone into editing and marketing these titles.

#2 - Formation of Ridan Publishing: Michael was originally published through AMI (Aspirations Media Inc.) a small press based in Minnesota. They were not able to raise the money for the first printing of Michael's second novel so the rights reverted to us. In order to get this to the market I formed Ridan Publishing. Wishing to make this more than just a vehicle for Michael's books I've been recruiting other authors with exceptional talent and I now have 6 authors and 17 books on the market.

#3 - Medical Issues - I've now had 2 back surgeries one of which caused me a great deal of downtime and some lingering issues with permanent nerve damage. This literally took me "off my feet" for quite some time.

#4 - Change in "day job" resulted from a layoff which required me to not only find a new job but then work at it 60 hours a week to "get up to speed" quickly.

Now that most of the above are "running smoothly" I thought I would get back to this blog and even expand it by offering little "on-line tutorials". Look for those coming soon.