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Aug. 10th, 2010

The Idea File

There are some ideas that come out fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' head. These ideas are ready to be turned into writing projects immediately. Others need to stew for years. Most are somewhere in-between.

Ideas are great, but only useful if they are readily available when you need them. That means time and effort to gather them. In the previous article we talked about where to find ideas. Now we talk about how to store them.

The memory can be a faulty sieve, leaking the contents when you aren't looking. I have a bad memory, and it's getting worse thanks to health problems. Because of this, I don't take memory for granted. As this series continues, you will see how this has affected every aspect of my writing life.

It also affects ideas. I cannot trust myself to remember them when the time comes.

Welcome "The Idea File".

This isn't a new concept. Authors have been using variations of it for ages. It's sometimes called something else; it's sometimes formal and sometimes very informal.

Basically it's a place to gather the ideas, inspirations, and tidbits into one place, waiting for the day it may be retrieved and used in a project.

Don't have an Idea File? Then it's time to start one!

It can be a literal file in a filing cabinet where you drop snippets, pictures, or notes to yourself. It can be a special notebook that you make notes in or tape things into. It can be a file on the computer that you open up and type in ideas. It can be a shoebox under the bed. Whatever works for you.

Any time I see something with story potential, whether it is plot, characters, location, technology or scene ideas, I open up a computer file and type it in quick. It takes only a minute or two, but it's safe and sound. No chance of forgetting it or losing it. It's tucked away, awaiting the right project.

At first the file looks pathetic. Only a few lines that are barely worth the effort to look at. At first you will likely remember everything in it, so why have it at all?

Don't let that discourage you!

The wonderful thing about an Idea File is that over the months and years the ideas will accumulate. When you are adding new ones, an old one might suddenly spark a full idea that is usable. Or it might inspire a completely unrelated idea. Something might inspire you on a current stuck project.

And, of course, when you are finished with a writing project and need to jump into something new, this is a place to go. To find the seeds of a new project.

Read through the accumulated ideas. See if any spark scenes, plot lines or interesting characters. Try combining more than one idea.

The latter is what I've had the most success with. A lot of ideas just aren't big enough on their own. But, combined with another in a different area of the Idea File? Yeow, the possibilities! A simple idea has just found depth and complexity that it didn't have on its own.

Start your own Idea File. Add to it regularly. Perhaps you, as well, will find hidden treasures to inspire future stories.
_______________________________
"The E-Book Experiment" chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Aug. 3rd, 2010

Writing Challenge Success!

"July Novel Writing Month" is over as of midnight last Saturday night. While the result is the lowest word count of any July or November writing month so far, it was far from a failure.

I went into it with 3 outlines. Saturday night, well before the deadline, I finished the first draft of the third novella. Here are the stats of each of the three:

26560 - Night of the Aurora
26374 - Alien Winter
25553 - The Singing Lakes

Talk about close to each other in word count. I'm not sure I could have done that on purpose if I had tried!

Congrats to everyone else who participated, no matter how many words you wrote. 1 word more is a victory. :)

More information on the books will come out as "The E-Book Experiment" posts continue. Which, will be later this week!

Jun. 25th, 2010

Where do ideas come from?

Where do ideas come from?

Simple answer: They come from everywhere.

And that simple answer drives new writers nuts. They look all over the place and don't see any ideas! What is the crazy person talking about?

I understand the frustration. I was there once.

What I have learned is that, yes, the ideas are out there. But first you need to learn how to SEE them.

What do I mean by this?

A comedian can take the simplest thing in life and make it hilarious. Is it because the world they live in is funnier than the one we live in? No, it's because of how they look at the world. They have trained themselves to see the humorous aspects of the same world the rest of us live in.

And that's why they can make a living keeping people laughing.

It is the same with writers. It is not that writers intrinsically live in a world more interesting than other people (although there are always exceptions). It's that they have trained themselves to see the possibilities around them.

It's how we look at the world.

Ideas are all around us every single day. But in order to see them, we have to look at the world a little differently. Slightly cross-eyed with a squint, while doing a handstand.

Okay, maybe we don't have to go that far.

But we do need to let go of 'normal.' Don't be a control freak, don't force it. Let yourself be open to the kinds of ideas that anyone else would think stupid.

Relax. Take a deep breath.

And remember to never call your idea center or your Muse stupid. THEN take a look around.

That article in the newspaper about a new way of gardening? There's an idea for technology, location or character. The news report about the firefighters saving a kitten that turned out to be a domesticated large cat? Oh, big idea there for a set-up in a book. How about a new technological breakthrough? Big story idea of what would happen if the idea were taken to the extreme.

Almost anything can be the core of an idea. The grandma ahead of you in the checkout stand with a streak of neon yellow in her hair? How about the crazy magazine article titles? The downpour that catches you before you can get the groceries unloaded"

Any of the above can inspire a location, the beginnings of a small scene, an introduction to a character or premise, or all the way up to a full plot. Let yourself see the small possibilities along with the big.

Learn to see the possibilities around you.

For some people this is easier than others. I sometimes have trouble because my mind over-analyzes everything around me. I explain things away with logic. But the worlds we create aren't always logical (or they will threaten to become boring). It takes practice to let go of the rational part of the brain, and see things from a slightly different angle.

The effort is worth it. Once you start seeing the possibilities around you, the ideas don't stop. At first this is a great thing. Oh, look, story fodder!

But the ideas keep coming…

Then comes the realization that even if you live to be 200 years old there won't be enough time to write all the ideas.

Gee, what a problem to have!

Once you get past the mental barriers you've set up in your mind, you will find the world full of endless possibilities for characters, locations, scenes, and yes, even entire books and series.

Practice with one edition of your local newspaper or the evening news. Pick out one thing that could be useful in a story. Try looking for the little things first if looking for the big ideas is too much pressure. Look at the titles of the magazines at the grocery store while you are waiting to check out and find just one that could contain the glimmer of an idea.

Then play "What If?".

Writing is as much craft as art. Craft can be learned. Start training your mind on the craft side, teach it to be open to what is around you.

The next question is how to organize these ideas…

_______________________________

"The E-Book Experiment" chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!


I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.


If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Jun. 24th, 2010

Product for the Experiment

I've made a business decision to see what might happen as an Indi Author/Publisher. As I want this to be successful, I cannot just let things fall as they may. So, it's time to make a few hard decisions. I need to go into this with a plan. A full business plan will come later, which I will post, but for now I need to get started on a few other details.

So, let's start with something very basic: A business must have something to sell.

Hehe, a pretty obvious point, yet one of great importance. It is not something to be overlooked or dismissed with an "of course".

For a writer, it has big implications. Projects planned. Release dates scheduled. All the incremental steps along the way planned out. Writing and revision takes time. So do the other parts of the process. That means a good lead-time before the release date.

I want to start releasing product somewhere between January and March 2011. The exact dates will be refined towards the end of summer, but I needed a target to aim for right now.

However, I also made the decision to share the process for others. Who knows, perhaps something in the way I plan, write, and revise a project might inspire and help another writer.

Because of that I didn't want to simply take a project from my hard-drive to use to illustrate the experiment. They are already completed. It would be difficult to share the process as I may not remember all the steps the project went through.

So, that meant a new project. A project I could share in "The E-Book Experiment" from start to finish, that could be finished in time for a target of January to March 2011.

The above might seem like small things, yet they aren't. Business decisions are not made in a vacuum. Likewise, the product a business produces is not chosen randomly.

Having taken the time to identify the very basics, I now know a few very basic, but very important, items to keep in mind. Knowing those limitations, and working within them, will give me a better chance at success.

For instance, the release target dates present a bit of a problem. To start a book right now and have it completely polished by the beginning of 2011 is possible for me if life is calm. But life isn't calm right now and I don't expect it to be for quite some time. So, writing a typical novel of 70,000 to 100,000 words is simply not possible. At the same time, I don't think this experiment could really be satisfied with short stories.

Enter the novella.

A novella is typically defined as a story between 17,500 to 40,000 words. I've written novellas for ages in fanfiction. It's a very comfortable length that allows the author to tell a meaty story without it dragging on for days of reading. But, I've never written anything original at that length because of the problem of finding a market for it.

Now there's a market. One of the great things about e-books is that the novella has come out of near non-sellable obscurity to make a dramatic resurgence. For a new project, it would be wonderful to try it out.

The novella has the added benefit that I can, with good conscience, price it low. A low price point for the early work my writing business produces is exactly what I want.

Can I make a novella as successful in my original writing as I have with fanfiction? Time to find out.

Now I have parameters in which to fit a project. What project that is, I don't know yet, but it has to have the following qualities:

* New project
* Project must be ready for release somewhere between January to March 2011
* Novella length (17,500 to 40,000 words)

Time to go fishing for story ideas. Or sparklies? My Muse loves sparklies...
_______________________________

NOTE: For the writing aspects of the series, I've dropped "The E-Book Experiment" from the first part of the title. Some of the blog titles were going to get too long otherwise.
_______________________________

"The E-Book Experiment" chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Jun. 16th, 2010

The E-Book Experiment: A Change in the Publishing World Air

Do I think print books are dead? Absolutely not. I love them and so do a great many others.

But I also see things changing, and the print form of books may take a different (and smaller) market segment than they do now. Along with them will go the 'traditional' path of the big publisher.

As a writer/author/storyteller, it would be foolish of me to ignore the new trends.

So, target small press or e-book publishers, right?

It's a possibility, and one that a lot of authors are going for. Some have made exclusive e-book deals, like Stephen R. Covey and Ron Paul with Amazon. Small e-book presses like Samhain and Elora's Cave are doing quite well. Sony announced they believe e-books will dominate within 5 years. Some writers are banding together to create their own publishing entity and sharing the business side to the betterment of all involved.

However, with the changing dynamic of technology is there yet another way to share the storytelling AND make a living at writing?

The internet is a great leveling playing field. The market is in the process of changing. The readers know they can in some cases go straight to the author for their reading entertainment and completely bypass the middle-men.

Remember that e-rights are worth a lot of money now, especially with "The Long Tail", if one takes the product, time, and dedication to do it right.

Amazon allows authors to put up their work themselves for a 35-70% royalty rate. Smashwords and other companies allow an author to get distribution into iPad, Barnes and Nobles, the Sony ebook store and others. Barnes and Nobles and the Apple iBookstore just announced programs to list with them directly. Google will soon make an entrance into the fray.

The booksellers and content distributors want a piece of a market that is exploding. In March alone e-book sales rose 184%. How ironic that the Big Publishers are doing so many things to not take advantage of the new developing market.

An author doesn't have to accept the pittance royalty rate offered by many traditional publishers (15-25%). The author doesn't have to accept the lack of control that may tank a book and a career before they even have a chance.

But only if the author is willing to take control and push forward with the business side as well as the creative side. The emphasis here is "BUSINESS".

And why not, if the traditional publishers already insist the authors take over the business side of promotion? If we're expected to do that, then what is the publisher for in the new digital era? Distribution? Sorry, authors can do that themselves now. Money? Excuse me while I laugh. Expertise in marketing? Not unless you are already a bestseller.

Well, they are good for headaches, editorial arguments, rights grabs, losing control of the creative material but still getting blamed for the failure of the projects...

ahem

Sorry, started going into rant mode.

Anyway, the possibility is out there. I want to see if I can do it, as others are. I like the idea of it.

Indi author

I rather like the sound of that.

The decision is made. I'm going to try the e-book route and hope to take advantage of its explosive growth. The experiment may fail, it may succeed, but the only way to truly know is to try. May I go traditional at some point? I might, if it makes good business sense and pays a decent amount. But, for now, it's time to see what is possible outside the 'traditional' route.

This means it is now business, of course. Which mean all the previously mentioned business points! (I bet you're getting tired of those points, aren't you!)

* If you don't know what the customer wants, then you aren't going to find a customer base for your product.

My customer is the ones in the same demographic as I. What is that?

Product type: Good science fiction with a strong plot, strong characters, exotic locales, a sense of wonder, adventure, and a feeling of hope. Just plain good fun.

Elements in the genre that are sadly lacking in the general publishing world.

Basically the type of books I wish I could find easier. There will not be a sales department deciding what genres and subgenres they are willing to accept or not (You think the editor decides? Hah, think again. Think committee, where the sales force has the biggest say). Under my penname and company name will be several subgenres of science fiction that all have the above product type in common.

Even better, there are indications that Science Fiction is one of the genres that is doing well in e-books, as science fiction readers are also usually familiar and comfortable with technology. There's my audience!

* If the quality is not there, then the customer will find a product that does have the quality. There is too much quality out there for them to put up with it.

This is perhaps a bit of ego, but I do believe that my quality is to this level. I've had complete strangers read my work and loved it, demanding why it isn't published yet. This includes small press editors (who, unfortunately, were not buying the genre).

Quality is a very subjective item when it comes to writing. I do not want to assume, I want to KNOW. To help keep a balance judgment to the produced product I have available beta-readers, story editors, and polishing editors. More eyes to make sure the quality is there!

Oh, and skills for the non-creative side of the product? Graphic artist, webmaster, and computer nerd. Covers and file conversions? No sweat. I've been doing similar stuff for years.

* If it's not a price the customer is willing to pay, they will compromise and go with another product that they are willing to pay.

I'm not about to make a mistake on this. I am an unknown at this point. I need to entice readers to try out my stories.

A low price makes the stories affordable, accessible, and an impulse buy. Lure readers to try the books without worrying about the investment of money. Sell more at a low price point to profit with a higher sell-through. I have a chance at finding fans, but only if they read!

I'm also prolific, which means the "Long Tail" will kick in faster as readers go looking for my other writing.

* If a customer has to hunt down your product, many times they will instead switch to what they CAN easily find. For many people time is money.

Right now the eye-balls are at Amazon, but others are coming up fast. That means multiple distribution channels to be prepared for the next sales channel that takes off.

I already have a list I constantly keep updated. The goal is to make the content available to as many people as possible in as many formats as possible.

* Keep a good relationship with your wholesale/product resources. If you don't have a product to sell, you don't have a business.

Well, that's me. I better treat me nice!

* If something doesn't work, YOU CHANGE. You must be flexible to new market conditions to survive.

Keep reading industry news, study sales figures and channels, keep writing good books. Yeppers, I think I can do this.

Can just anyone do this? No, I don't think so. Not everyone has the wide variety of skills. Some have not brought the quality of their work to a professional level. Some need the deadlines of an external source or for someone to be the buffer between them and the public.

And who knows, I might not qualify on all points, either.

But I have to try. See what happens. Nothing to lose, a lot to gain, great learning experience, hopefully a lot of fun. And if it fails, then it's my fault. I won't wonder "If the publisher had done this, or hadn't changed that, would it have succeeded?"

I plan to start small, and that means only myself and possibly one other author. If the venture is a success, and I feel comfortable with the skills I've developed in publishing, I might open it up to other authors who might not have the skills I do but who produce works that fit the 'product type' (see above).

As this is a business, "The E-Book Experiment" will include a business plan, schedules and expense planning. This is a business, and that means that ultimately the outflow must be less than the inflow in order to be a long-term success.

Also included will be an exploration of the creative side of this venture. You will see how business decisions affect the product and the development of a project from the very first inspiration to the final sale-able product. This includes series planning, individual book planning, revision, and all the other steps involved in preparing a work for market.

Notice the word 'series' in there? Yes, a new series. The idea for a single book sparked so much more. Yes, there will be a post about this development, too.

"The E-Book Experiment" series will also include the digital publishing aspect and the results, both good and bad. The results will include sales figures, when that time comes. I've appreciated other authors who have shared numbers and hard data instead of hording them as 'top secret', and now it's my time to pay back.

My head is buzzing with the possibilities!

_______________________________
"The E-Book Experiment" chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Jun. 9th, 2010

Revision Type-In Finished!

Into the Forest Shadows

On a world of valuable giant trees and intelligent animals, a red-cloaked headstrong teen struggles to save her family from a planetary conspiracy awaiting her at Grandmother's house.

The above 2009 NaNoWriMo book was the novel I used to go through Holly Lisle's "How to Revise Your Novel" class. The class started on December 1st of 2009 and finished in April. Only now have I finished one of the final stages, and that was to type in all the changes I marked up on the printed-out manuscript.

The original first draft: 81877 words

Revised draft: 79855 words

Considering I had several new scenes and no cut scenes, I'm surprised the word count didn't go up. But, there you go. I was snipping a word here and a sentence there. Every so often a portion of a page. It all added up.

Hehe, or deleted up.

Whew, what a lot of work, but definitely worth it! I'm really happy with the way the story came out. Now to format it into chapters and prepare it for the beta-readers, who will then rip it to shreds. :D

Jun. 7th, 2010

The E-Book Experiment: Adapability

* If something doesn't work, YOU CHANGE. You must be flexible to new market conditions to survive.

You don't ignore it. You don't argue about it or to it. You don't insist on a different reality.

You find out why it isn't working. You research it. You find out the facts. You brainstorm. You develop alternatives.

And then you move forward in a new direction because you KNOW THE OLD WAY ISN'T WORKING ANYMORE.

Ticking off the readers and writers by telling them "this is the way we do it, so just deal with it" is not a good business decision.

Readers are leaving one star reviews on Amazon now that the publishers have jacked up the price on e-books (and withholding the format) in a misguided attempt to stop this new wave of technology and convenience. Publishers are choosing to withhold formats, either as bargaining ploys or because they can't be bothered.

The authors are hurting from a loss of sales, loss of royalty percentages and a poor review average.

We don't know what is going on at Apple yet, as they have only revealed how many e-books have been downloaded, but not sold. Considering the iBookstore came preloaded with 30,000 free titles, we don't know if readers are willing to take the higher prices coming from traditional publishers through the new Agency Model that Apple forged, are instead buying the lower priced indi titles, or are loading up their iPads with freebies. It is a big unknown. (Oh, and new news on the Agency Model. State Attorney Generals are looking into it as a type of price fixing.)

Recent Big Publisher claims: E-books take more steps to format. Books are more flexible. All the while claiming they aren't Luddites.

The publishing industry does have a somewhat similar historical situation to look back on. While there are differing details, the basics of business still apply.

You know what I'm going to compare it to, don't you?

From about 10 years ago?

That's right: the music industry. An industry that is still trying to find equilibrium from the insurrection of listeners wanting their music THEIR way, and not the way closed-minded board executives wanted it.

And the music companies are still paying for it, even now.

The publishing industry had a chance to look at that situation, make note of the things that did work and why, and what didn't work and why.

Did they do that?

No!

They are making the same bone-headed mistakes!

DRM, limited availability, high prices, limited packaging choices... so much of it.

Because of it most of the traditional publishers (and by that I mean the big NY publishing companies. Some smaller companies do 'get it') are going to pay dearly for it. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them have another major downsizing or are sold off as 'unprofitable' in the next several years from parent companies and shareholders who want a better investment return.

Business is changing. Big Publishers aren't changing with it. This is an epic fail that will hurt a lot more people than only those who work for the publishing companies. It will hurt the authors, the agents, the bookstores, the distributors.

Now, I know there are a lot of arguments for all the previously discussed points. It'll be pointed out that the publishing business is different.

No, not all that different. It's still a business, and basic business rules apply. If you ignore them, you will go out of business.

"If you do not learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it."

J.A. Konrath: "The publishing industry is broken. No doubt about it. Any business that allows returns, where a 50% sell-through is considered successful, where no one can figure out why things succeed or fail, is fundamentally flawed."

This is still a BUSINESS. Never forget that. I take to heart the advice for writers to treat their career as a business. That only the writer can truly take care of themselves. Everyone else is interested in THEIR business, and sometimes the two do not coincide.

Lets recap a little:

Publishers are ticking off readers with high ebook sales.

Publishers have been ticking off authors for years at how the authors are treated and paid.

Author royalty rates continue to go down.

Advances continue to go down.

Authors are expected to take their minuscule below-minimum-wage advances and do the job of the publishers marketing department.

Ouch.

Having watched the traditional publishing world for so many years, I am loathe to jump into the pool of sharks. I don't like the business end of the industry and I detest the lack of respect for the content producers. I do not like the agent-editor relationship, where the agent is more likely to put their relationship with the editor before the author who pays them. I do not like the lack of accountability of the agent system. I do not like not having an independent way to confirm sales of a product other than to take the publishers word for it. I do not like the author being the last to be paid while both the publisher and agent use 'the float' to pad their bottom line. I do not like the author taking the blame for business decisions over which they have no control or say.

Oh, there are too many things I do not like.

Over the years, with the things I've seen and read, and how authors are taken advantage of, do I want to join in? Especially now when the authors might possibly have the upper hand over publishers for the first time in history?

As a content provider/writer/author/storyteller, I have a bit of a problem of getting on the ship while so many other rats are fleeing. I think it's time to rethink the traditional publishing path.

I would LIKE to think I'm as smart as the rats.

Okay, fine. Let's approach this like a business. MY business...
_______________________________
"The E-Book Experiment" chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Jun. 4th, 2010

The E-Book Experiment: Relationships with Product Sources

* Keep a good relationship with your wholesale/product resources. If you don't have a product to sell, you don't have a business.

Underpaid, under supported, and overworked employees usually do not result in a good successful business. Throw in a general feeling of being cheated, and forget about having any loyalty!

But, with the writer it gets even murkier.

You see, in traditional business, a customer is sold on a brand. You go into a store for a certain item and there may be a company brand you prefer. You head right for it.

With a book it's different.

A reader doesn't walk into a bookstore or browse online for a book that is by a certain publisher (well, except sometimes Harlequin. But they knew they needed branding before most other publishing companies woke up to the 20th, much less the 21st, century). What do readers look for? What do readers ask for?

The author name.

The author is the brand, not the publishing company.

The author is the one who has an exclusively unique product that no one else has. You can't ask a new author to come in and replace that person (instead what you get is a brand new product that is different, and is once again unique).

We are not talking about building a new mold to pour plastic into or stamped duplicate shapes in metal. A book, and its author, cannot be simply replaced with an identical product.

Considering the branding of the author, you would think that the publishing companies would be careful about nurturing and exploiting those brands as much as possible. But, what do we see?

The author has little to no control over: title, cover, biography, jacket copy, and where and when a book will be released. These things are decided by the publishing company, either by one person, a sales team or a committee.

We've mentioned marketing before, but we'll talk about it again.

You do not throw a product out there and tell the engineer who designed it that they have to go out and sell it with the money out of their own pocket and if it isn't successful they will fire the engineer and go find a new engineer...

Oh, and by the way, the engineer has nothing to say about what the product is called, what the packaging looks like, what promotion was done to support it, to who and where it's offered for sale and in what formats...

Not a perfect example, but hopefully it makes the point.

As a company, if you have a new product, you are suppose to be behind it 110%. Otherwise what was the point? Why even do it? Why not just stay with your old products?

Yet, the publishing industry thinks that's a good idea. I think it's boneheaded and a self-fulfilling dire prophecy of doom.

Time and again 'traditional' publishers say it only makes sense to put their promotional money behind the bestsellers. For a new book or for a mid-lister, they toss the book out, send out a few review copies, and then it is up to the author and a whole bunch of luck on if it sinks or swims.

If it sinks, so then do the odds of the author making another sale under that brand (penname).

It's not as if the publishing companies are providing more of a royalty percentage to compensate the authors to provide the marketing. No, royalties are going down. Some companies have even been trying to grab rights they have no right to, as they see it's possible to make a little bit of money in e-books. (Now, wouldn't it be interesting if there were a standard of say how many royalty points would go to either the author or publisher depending on which one provided the marketing service? I know, keep dreaming.)

Authors are expected to take their minuscule below-minimum-wage advances and do the job OF THE PUBLISHERS MARKETING DEPARMENT! If the book doesn't do well, forget about the royalties royalties.

Dean Wesley Smith once said (marketing) to someone in the comments to one of his Self Promotion posts: "...your question assumes authors need to promote their own books. If that is the case, why bother signing a contract with a New York publisher? It is their job to promote your books, internet or no internet. Your job is to write them. The line is the contract between the two parties." This from someone who has sold around 100 books. He gets it. Publishers more and more do not.

Authors and the books they produce are expendable. The book didn't do as well as they hoped (because of the lack of support)? No big deal. Fire them, don’t renew or make a new contract, and hire a new writer. Writers are a dime-a-dozen. There is always someone else in the wings to fill that spot and provide content for a book-slot.

The writer is left with a damaged brand. Some authors can pull themselves out of it. Keep the old brand penname and find another publisher. Or, change to a completely different name and build a new brand from scratch. Or, some throw up their hands and don't want to deal with the big whole mess that blames them for so many 'wrongs' while they had no power to make decisions for the better.

To me this sounds like a really bad deal for the author. A really REALLY bad deal. The writer is the content producer. The writer goes to the publisher for editing (read post concerning Quality), distribution, and marketing. Traditionally this is what they are suppose to be experts at.

Marketing: No, the author should do that with no increase in royalty percentage.

Editing: No, editors are for the most part now acquisition and new talent scouts.

Publishing the book itself: Yeah, with cheaper paper each year (has anyone noticed how some of it literally stinks now?).

So, now they just want to be distributors?

Well, that was the past. This is the present. And the times, they are a-changin'!

In this day and age the author, themselves, can find the distributors, if they are willing to think outside the box. Such as going digital and POD.

Amazon allows small publishers and Indi authors to sell books directly. Barnes and Nobles just announced a similar program to start in late summer. With sources such as Smashwords a small publishers or Indi authors can have access to Sony, Kobo, the iBookstore, and many others.

An author can go from 6-8% paperback and 10-20% hardcover royalties from the list price to 40-70% percent of list price. At that kind of increase in percentage an author wouldn't need to sell near as many books to make as much, if not more, money than if they go 'traditional'.

If they have researched their niche.

If they have the quality.

If they have the right price-point.

If they have the right availability.

If an author has all of the above points covered, then why put up with a printer/distributor that takes a majority of the percentage of a sale, who is known for rights grabs, penalizing the content producers for mistakes not of their doing, and a general lack of support for your product?

That just doesn't make sense. As someone in the business of writing, does this sound like a profitable proposition for you?

There has been anger and animosity towards the 'distributors' for a while now. For decades there was no choice but to put up with them and their demands. It's been the only deal in town. Take it or there's the door and don't let it hit you on the ... well, you get the point.

That is no longer the case.

Opportunities are out there for an author to find their own readers. To publish books that weren't big enough for the commercial trade publishers and to prove they can find an audience. To keep their rights and a bigger percentage of the sales. To devote the marketing time and money they would have spent making the Publisher richer and instead make themselves richer.

J.A. Konrath once mused about what the publishers will do when authors wise up and refuse to put up with it anymore because they have other options. While I don't think big publishers will go away, I do think we will see a shift and change in the publishing landscape because some writers are going to refuse to play 'traditional'. Too many are ticked off about being kicked to the curb or taken advantaged of. Some, like me, who are about to jump into the business are looking at the big huge mess and wondering why they should even want anything to do with the dysfunctional mess.

More and more writers are going to tell their distributor they aren't willing to play the game by their rules any longer. There is a new game in town, and it consists of the writers themselves.

I want to share my writing and make a living while doing it. If I can do the distribution myself and cut out the middleman standing between me and the readers, why not do it? Why not try?

As a content producer, I want to try.

NOTE: For an author who has another means of support, it is possible to make a living 'traditionally published', consisting of careful business attention to the selling of the various rights of a written work. See Dean Wesley Smith's blog for more information on how this works. For someone just starting out, um, well, good luck at hitting that lottery.

NOTE 2: The business of publishing might change in the future and my views of how the publishing industry exists as stated above might change. As a business person I reserve the right to alter and adjust to market forces. That's business: willingness to change to market changes (see a later blog post). Every writer should pay attention to the business of their writing!

_______________________________
"The E-Book Experiment" chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Jun. 1st, 2010

The E-Book Experiment: Product Availability

* If a customer has to hunt down your product, many times they will instead switch to what they CAN easily find. For many people time is money.

Part of this goes back to "Knowing Your Customer", but this also comes down to product availability.

If you have a new product, and you advertise it like crazy, would you also fail to make sure it's available in all the obvious places? Do you really think the customer is going to go on a treasure hunt? Or :shudder: wait until you are good and ready to deliver it?

No, you have it out there as fast as possible, during the marketing blitz and in as many venues and formats as necessary to gain the largest market saturation as possible.

YOU WANT TO SELL!

Brick and mortar points-of-sale for print books are diminishing, and they are dominated by the NY big 6's willingness to pay for shelf space and prime display areas. Yes, that's right, bookstores sell shelf space.

We're going to look at the one big leveling playing field where shelf space is open, unlimited, uninhibited, and not ransomed off to only those with deep pockets: e-books.

While the e-book reading market is still settling (for example problems in varieties of DRM and proprietary formats), there is more than one way to read the books. You don't need a dedicated e-book reader. Smart phones, iPods, iPads, and the home computer or netbook are all options. Anyone with a few minutes can quickly browse, find a story, pay for it, download it, and be reading in no-time.

E-books have another advantage. They are not tied down to a specific location. A reader doesn’t have to get into their cars and find a local bookstore, if there is one. Good marketing dictates that you make the e-books available in as many of the online markets as possible. Now days there are a lot of big selling avenues, including Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, iBookstore, Kobo, Fictionwise and soon Google Editions and Borders.

This is great for publishers. It means impulse buys on a level never seen before.

That is, if the product is out there. For some big authors they are not. Does that mean the books aren't out there? Of course they are, as pirated books. These authors are not making a penny in the digital revolution. Readers want to read digital, and telling them 'no' just means they will find another way to do it.

Windowing has been mentioned in a previous post in this series. A business needs to sell in order to stay in business. Is windowing a good idea if it's estimated that a book will lose 40% of its sale power if delayed 90 days or more after the initial book release? The readers are looking for the product, not finding it in a manner they want to read, and moving on to other products. Oops, just lost a sale!

Some publishers are limiting themselves to only some online bookstores and formats, such as what Penguin is currently doing (claiming contract negotiations). Penguin is telling readers to go to one of the other online stores. Readers are telling Penguin to buy them an e-reader that they can read the different format on. Obviously Penguin is declining to do so.

As an aside, while negotiating with Amazon Penguin COULD have released e-books through their own website (if they had one set up to commercially sell to the public) such as a version without DRM that could be converted into the Kindle format. This would have allowed them to make money on the books while showing the Kindle users that they were still important to the company. The Kindle users wouldn't feel like the only way they could read the books was to break the law by stripping off the DRM and then converting, or not reading the book at all. Did they do that? No. Big fail, Penguin!

Until the formats and DRM restrictions are dealt with, it is foolish to take out an entire segment of your reader base. It creates reader dissatisfaction and bad feelings against both the publisher and the author.

In physical bookstores there is the problem of time on the shelf. Bookstores are keeping new books for shorter times before ripping off the cover and 'returning' the book for full, or nearly-full credit (estimates now are 14-60 days in the big chains). For a book, and an author, 'Shelf-space real estate' is the key to finding the wandering eye of a browser in a bookstore. Yet look at how few authors have more than a handful (much less one) of their backlist still in print. Just like TV show premiers, the window for a project to succeed or fail has shortened to the point that most WILL NOT succeed.

There simply isn't enough time to catch the consumer eye, much less to build a following. It is the equivalent to waiting for lightening to strike.

But how does this 'shelf space' apply to e-books?

Say hello to The Long Tail...

What does this mean? It means a book doesn't go out of print, is always available no matter how much time has passed since its initial release. As long as one has the rights, they can stay on the virtual bookshelf for an indefinite amount of time. Newly released works will mean new sales of old books and vice-versa. A long tail of income coming in over a long period of time. Get enough of these long tails going at the same time and then you might be talking about serious regular income.

Look past the big splash. How much will this book make over a life-time?

There is big money in that long tail, over the long term. That is, if the book and back-list remain out there.

In traditional publishing the backlist disappears. If you are fortunate enough to find readers and they want to read past works, it means they must hunt down the books in the used market and the author does not make a penny more. When looking on a bookstore shelf, if the reader doesn't see the other books from an author it increases the chances of an author disappearing after one book does not sell well. Fewer chances to catch a reader, less chance of selling other books by the same author to the readers, and less chance of a reader remembering the author and coming back.

Meanwhile, an e-book can remain out there on the 'virtual shelf' almost indefinitely.

The wave of the future, if anyone is willing to see it for what it is.

Some of the big publishers are starting to see it. Along with rights grabs there have appeared new language in the boilerplate contracts that, if the author isn't careful, will give the Big Publishers your e-rights for the entire life of the book. With a pittance of a royalty. Not only will the author's earning power be diminished with the low royalties, but all control over distribution is taken away, making them victims of any of the bone-headed limitations their publishers decide is the 'right thing to do."

Make it easy for the reader to buy your product. That means you cast as big a net as possible. This is one area where some of the Big 6 get it, and some do not. Author beware on who they decide to work with. Watch the language of the contracts and their long-term effects.

To me it's a headache I really don't want to be apart of.

There are smaller companies that are much more nimble to reacting to changing distribution channels and formats. They have books in all the major, and minor, distribution channels. They also have the books for sale through their own sites in multiple formats, meaning a reader is sure to find what they need, and able to read on whatever hardware they choose.

I want to share my writing. I want to find readers and keep them. That means wide distribution and availability with a full backlist available at all times.

I prefer to be nimble.

_______________________________
"The E-Book Experiment" chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

May. 24th, 2010

The E-Book Experiment: Pricing

* If it's not a price the customer is willing to pay, they will compromise and go with another product that they are willing to pay.

Look at Wal-Mart. They are taking over retail by using to their advantage the truth that smaller profit but bigger sell-through equals more profit.

And they do it extremely well.

Okay, we're in a recession (no matter what the dunderheads in the media say on a particular day of the week to make themselves feel better). That means more people are counting their pennies. So, to attract and keep customers, you better be watching the price point and make it worth their while to spend what little money they have on you.

But what has been happening in the publishing industry?

The big NY publishers have decided that the current price of e-books is too low. That is it devaluing the books. That they aren't making any money (for fun, compare the New Yorker calculations on how much profit per hardback they make, and then the one at Bnet.

I do understand why the publishing companies are worried. If Amazon (or anyone else) were able to become dominant, then they would have the clout to control the price they were willing to buy product wholesale, and the publishing companies would be in a tight spot. Brick and mortar booksellers are dying off in droves. The places to sell are becoming fewer and fewer.

However...

The same Bowkers report mentioned in a previous post also mentions that the average price for a book continues to rise. This is for dead-tree books, not e-books.

But, let's talk about e-books. After Amazon showed that there was a market out there for e-books, the publishers finally took notice and became concerned about the perceived loss of value for their books priced at $9.99. It didn't matter that Amazon was paying them the full wholesale price and eating the loss themselves.

So, the publishers, with the release of the iPad, demanded full price control. This resulted in what is called the "Agency Model". The booksellers are no longer in control of their businesses, they are merely the deliverer of content. The publishers are now the retailers.

What was their first priority? Get most of the books within the $12.99 to $14.99 price range. Along with the price increases, some publishers are 'windowing' e-books by as much as 2 years. The Big Publishing companies promised they would pay attention to the pricing of the e-books and adjust them as needed. Do you believe them? I don't, not after finding so many instances of the e-book version costing more than even the mass-produced paperbacks.

Readers are revolting against the Agency Model that is increasing the prices of e-books and not allowing them to buy the books they want by leaving one-star reviews. There are now indications publishers realize that this is bad business and some titles are now falling below the $10 amount (oh, and making less than if they had just let Amazon and Kobo do what they do best: sell books).

Oh, and let's cripple what your honest paying readers can do with the book, too. DRM anyone?

Ugh, no thanks.

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, and the other restrictions (such as the inability to re-sell a used book, easily share, no printing, warehousing, shipping or returns) on e-books is one of the reasons consumers feel a perceived loss in value. All of this adds up to a lot of people who do not think they should be paying more for an e-book than for a mass-produced paperback.

Oh yeah, that's knowing your market and giving them what they want in exchange for their dollars.

The excuse for the price is that the publishers don't want e-books to bite into the purchases of hardcover, which is where they make the most money.

There is a faulty presumption there.

That the e-book buyers would EVER buy a hardcover. Again, we have a problem with market research, as there are a lot of indications that this is not necessarily a broad truth.

Which means, the publishing industry is losing sales they may never get back again by neglecting and putting off the e-book versions. Where did I come up with that? Kobo has found through its research that if an e-book is delayed 90 days past the print version, that it has permanently lost 40% of its e-book earning power. For the rest of its existence!

It doesn't get it back! These are not sales that translate into more hardcover or paperback sales. These are sales that disappear forever.

Book sellers are in the business of selling to the general public. They study data on how to do that in the most profitable fashion. In the same Kobo talk there were several slides showing the price points that sold the best. Yes, some books sold at a higher price point, but not as well. So, those books were making more per book, but making less per title total.

Isn't the over-all total profit the most important?

Now, if the publisher really does know best about price, why didn't they do this kind of research and started making changes to fix this financial problem? Answer: they didn't do the research.

Now, e-books are a small part of the market at the moment from the point of view of the major publishers. But there is one big statistic they should be paying attention to. While the dead-tree book market has shrunk 1.8 to 5% (depending on what source you look at), the e-book market has increased 176%.

And the e-book market is continues to grow.

In January alone, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) reported hardcover sales dropped 8.1%. Meanwhile, the cheaper paperbacks increased .8% while e-book sales increased a whopping 261.2%.

Did you see that last statistic? In the month of January 2010 alone?

A market is growing at a phenomenal rate, a market ready and willing to buy. The market shows no signs of decreasing or leveling off. Instead, the percentage of increase keeps getting bigger.

And the publishers are trying to inhibit it with a lack of availability, convenience, quality and high prices? Do they really think this is going to work?

I would say ticking off your readers, the source of your income, is not a wise thing. It pushes people into doing things you really don't want them to do, such as pirating.

So, how about cost-cutting, such as moving out of New York where the office prices are so high? Or streamlining the process? How about not paying ridiculous amounts of money for Celebrity contracts?

As J.A. Konrath said: "Write a good book. Make a good cover. Use a good description. Then sell it for cheap and make the money in volume."

And what does this mean for authors?

It means that they have to be diligent and willing to learn. They need to pay attention to what their publisher is doing before signing up with them. Pay attention to what rights they are demanding and put a proper value on them (especially for e-rights). An author needs to decide which way makes the most financial sense, all while keeping as much control for the success of their book as possible.

From the above, when it comes to the fastest increasing market the Big Publishers are a Big Fail. And what they do reflects badly on their authors because a vast majority of readers do not understand how little power the authors have in their creations by going the 'traditional' publishing route.

How does this affect me?

I want to share my writing WHILE making a living.

I need to connect with readers and make it worth their while to spend money on my writing. To have a successful career, and business, they need to feel the writing is a good value and be willing to come back for more product (books) time and time again. That means a reasonable price that will boost the title over-all profit even if the per unit might make a little less.

And the Big Publishers are not looking like the way to go. So far, they just don't get it. This is my career. I don't want them to ruin my career while they figure this out, if they ever do. That wouldn't be a good business decision.

And this is a business.

So, where does that leave me? Thinking outside the 'traditional' box, that's where.

_______________________________
"The E-Book Experiment" chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

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