Many readers know that I am following the new e frontier avidly. Writers whose work I admire, such as Karen McQuestion, have been great friends to me as I explore this territory. I never fail to recommend Joe Konrath’s megaphone of a blog, and I’ve used the Barry Eisler/Amanda Hocking polar opposite decision as the basis for more than one tweet or post title.
So today I am excited to welcome Rob Walker, another whose name belongs in these hallowed halls. Is hallowed the right word? There’s a brashness, a tent revival quality, to those who believe digital reading will decimate books–that books are just the T Rex who doesn’t know the meteor has landed yet. And yet–maybe the prophets are right. I don’t know myself, of course, but I offer Rob’s words, and his evidence of success, as another in the voice this conversation raises.
Enjoy! And in your comments please feel free to proclaim the truth–as you know it.
eBooks & On Becoming an Indie Author/Publisher
Why Go All Independent Author on Us, Rob? (Part I)
The following few lines taken form my ebook Titanic 2012 might stand in as a metaphor for the condition of Legacy publishing right now. Just replace the idea of a caved-in mine with traditional publishing… (lol):
The day had ended with little to show for and mine superintendent McAffey remained frustrated and upset. He knew from experience it’d take days if not a week to get the men comfortable enough about this section of the mine to even begin to clean up the mess where some timbers had given way. “Hell, amounts to a sneeze,” he said to the man beside him.
“Minor inconvenience at best,” agreed Francis O’Toole. “Thank God, no one’s been kilt; two injured and off to hospital’s all.”
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 stopped by long enough to reach into the carriage and pull out her kindle, which she proudly flashed before us, asking me and my wife, Miranda, “Are your books on Kindle?” We were ready for her, both of us replying, “Yes indeed.”
3 Million plus Kindle e-readers have been sold since December of this year, and Mother’s Day is likely to see a huge number sold as well—perhaps more; at least this is the number I keep seeing in articles in The New Yorker and Newsweek. In other words, 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 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 that 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 are made by committee. 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”. 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, but now suddenly millions of avid readers, rabid readers if you will (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 [will be] 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, I have it on good authority that a file can be converted with ease by sending it to a friend who is on gmail. I’ve only just recently learned of this shortcut, but it sounds promising and I will use it in future.
Meanwhile, once the html conversion is complete, 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 you 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. are no longer relevant tasks. Since all of this “goes away” in the 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 for $1.99 and $2.99. The 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 (after repaying advance, after packager’s 20 percent, after all overhead costs) 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?
Part II – Your Guide to Independent Authorship Found Here will continue tomorrow. Hope to see you back in your seat, ears alert, right here next time for the particulars of getting started in this brave new world of becoming an Indie Author.
Robert W. Walker has taught writing in all its permutations (“All writing is creative writing but not all writing sings,”) from composition and development to a study of the literary masters to advanced creative writing. His first novel was one only an arrogant youth could have conceived — a sequel to Huckleberry Finn (now published as Daniel & The Wrongway Railway, Royal Fireworks Press, NY), but his first suspense-techno-thriller-sf-mystery came in 1979, after college, a novel that won no awards entitled SUB-ZERO.