Monthly Archives: May 2013

Self Publishing Question – Are the other platforms worth the bother?

At this point in time Amazon’s system is the dominate one in the world of self publishing. However it isn’t the only show in town. The question I would like to offer a few words on is whether it is the only one worth bothering with.

To date I have published ebooks via Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback via Createspace; the links for them can be found at the end of this post. Now this post is probably pretty worthless without some numbers. So as of end of 19th May 2013 I have sold – and I would like to put emphasis I mean sold, not given away – over Thirteen thousand units for the Amazon Kindle, twelve via smashwords, thirty five for Kobo and about forty for Createspace (a few went to friends and family so lets call it thirty). Now I would point out that my launches have always been a bit ragged and I have yet to put my second book or novella up on smashwords so it is far from a perfect like for like comparison but based on those numbers the Amazon system wins hands down so obviously it isn’t worth putting your work anywhere other than Amazon. Right?

I don’t think so. Now there are those – especially in traditional publishing – who view Amazon as the Devil incarnate. I don’t subscribe to that view either. I think that a couple of different factors have to be considered.

1) It isn’t a great idea to hitch your wagon solely to one system. Amazon may be dominant today but what about tomorrow or next week or ten years from now? Like I said in my last post we have to think long term as well as short.

2) Like I said not the Devil incarnate but Amazon is a big rich company that barely knows I exist. It will do what suits it, not what suits me, however for as long as other systems are out there, Amazon knows that the self publishers owe it no loyalty and can abandon it just as quickly as they arrived.

3) Until your work goes up on a platform it is impossible to know how well it will sell. Obviously if it is not there it won’t sell at all.

4) Exposure. What kind of person can I guarantee will never buy my books? The one who has never heard of them. When one of my books appears one a person’s  screen I stand a chance of making a sale. The more places my books can be found, better the chance of a possible reader/customer coming across it. Think of it as a minefield, the better the density the more likely someone is to step on one (for the record my writing will not remove your leg)

Now the flip side of this is time and labour.  With the exception of actually writing the book, setting up the file is the most time consuming part of the whole process. It is also one of those unromantic parts of self publishing that I doubt anyone enjoys. Obviously based on my numbers none of the others have paid for the time spent on setting them up however given time they might. Obviously there is an element of trade off to this. Publishing via a route that has too small a chance of yielding a financial reward is not a good use of my time.  Still this is all part of the judgement a self publisher has to make. We are currently in the first generation of e-publishing. One of the problems I foresee is updating. As new ereaders – or their conceptual successors – come on stream file formats will change and odds are, to keep our work available, we’ll have to be ready to change with it.

I will admit that this post has more than a whiff of Do-as-I-say rather than Do-as-I-do since Amazon is at the moment the only place where everything I have is available but it is a reflection on the difficulty of multiple platforms.

The Nameless War, available on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback.

The Landfall Campaign, available on Kindle, Kobo and paperback.

The Job Offer, currently only available on Kindle.

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Filed under Random Rants, Self Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing

Professionalism and Future Earnings

Since I started self publishing I’ve occasionally been asked whether I plan to become a full time writer. To date the answer has been a firm no for two reasons.

1) Without a reason to leave the house each morning I suspect I’d go barking mad inside six months.

2) Whatever the aggravations of the day job I am rather attached to the steady income that it brings.

Writing is not the easiest way to earn a living wage. The amount of money I’ve made from writing in the twenty months I’ve been active would class it as a very well paid hobby but a very badly paid job.  To put a number to that, last year was my first full twelve month period.  I made (after deductions) the equivalent of 20% of my day job take home pay, so like I said, well paid hobby. In my previous post I commented that being a published writer – be it indie or traditional – means being a self employed businessman(woman), which in turn means basing decisions on the best information available.  So coming across a blog entitle What is Your Novel Worth by Jeff Posey, twigged my interest.

This blog revolves around the financial concept of NPV – Net Present Value. Loosely put this is a measure of what the potential revenue stream from your work is worth today. To take directly from Possey:

It’s easiest to imagine NPV in reverse. Let’s say you go to a bank and ask their financial wizard how much you’d have to give them to get, say, a $50 check every month for forty years. The number they give you is essentially the NPV of the future cash flow of $50 per month. NPV has a long track record in business and law.

We’ll make these calculations over forty years…

NPV was something I came across in university but haven’t really used since but it is a tool which has pretty solid applications for a writer. It’s useful for comparing two schemes that do the same thing in different ways. It tends to make a lot of assumptions but as a forecasting method it has its uses. Especially for a writer comparing self publishing to traditional publishing. Now it is hard to think forty years down the line. After all ten years ago who saw the rise of e-readers and self publishing as a viable means of reaching a mass audience? Well probably a few people in Amazon, who knows how many but likely no more than the number of fingers on the hand of a blind butcher. But a great many people out in the real world already do sign up to long term agreements. Do you have a mortgage? When then you’ve signed up to an agreement that is fundamentally based on the hope that you will be in a position to pay the monthly installments.  Sure various financial tests are applied but basically the whole thing is based on the hope that past performance does guarantee future returns.

Anyway, how do I think this relates to writing? Prior to the e-reader revolution an individual novel had only a fairly short life span. Once a book went out of print then it was of no further financial value to to the author. Copies might float around in second hand bookshops for decades but that has no effect on the authors bottom line. True there are timeless classics that will likely stay in print indefinitely but the seventy years of copyright post death was irrelevant for the average novel since a work that stayed in print ten years was probably doing well. Now, at least in theory, a book could remain available for the whole of the copyright period. Even if the number of sales per year is small, if those continue to tick away for years on end, the sums of money could be significant in the long run. Or to put it another way be the gift that keeps on giving. Just as important a writer’s entire work could remain available and if I have noticed anything it is that the best advertizement for one of your books is the existence of another.

Success in writing has by any measure always been about the long game, with most overnight successes being the result of years of effort, the changes in nature of publishing have made it even longer. If we take on board what Jeff Posey has said then we have to think in the long term as well as the short, make sure we make best advantage of our work. With a potential earning period of decades, it becomes important to keep that in mind when asked to sign any kind of publishing contract. Certainly any request for the rights for the whole of the copyright period should be viewed with extreme suspicion.

Jeff Posey’s article can be found here and I strongly recommend a read through.

There is also an interesting series of comments on this topic on the Passive Voice.

I’ll finish off with a final word from Possey

Lesson: Write more, do other stuff less.

Regards

The Nameless War, available on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback.

The Landfall Campaign, available on Kindle, Kobo and paperback.

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Filed under Self Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing

I QUIT – No actually I don’t

Something I came across recently which felt was worth sharing with my two cents:

Last month, an author I’d not spoken to in a while came to mind. She was someone I’d spoken with professionally, we’d read each other’s blogs, and I truly enjoyed her books. I began to wonder if I’d somehow lost another colleague’s posts in the sea of social networking I do every month. (Sadly, it happens.) So, I decided to look her up and find out if she had any new books out.

I couldn’t find her Facebook page or profile.

Her website had been deleted.

Her books were no longer on Amazon.

I started to doubt my recollection. I hadn’t spoken to her in a few months. Did I have her name confused with someone else’s? Had I written her blog address down wrong?

She wrote back the same day. She’d quit writing completely, unpublished her books, let her website expire, and gotten the hell out of Dodge. I was stunned. She was a talented author. She paid for wonderful cover art, gotten professional editing, and went about social networking like a pro. She’d even successfully signed with an agent.

Her reasons for quitting were varied: home issues, time constraints, poor sales, a few unsupportive indie colleagues, a couple of stinging reviews, and feeling like her books didn’t fit into any recognisable niche. She said to me: “It was an experiment, and it failed.”

….

She said thinking about her writing made her literally sick. Ouch.

I felt incredibly sad at her story, but in truth, I understand. Being a writer is hard. Self-publishing is even harder. We indies have to know a bit of everything, be a bit of everything. We rarely take enough time off. We often spend too much time watching the rankings, checking our stats, feeling elated when our books sell, but no matter the number, we secretly feel disappointed we don’t sell more.

….

The full article by India Drummond can be found here.

I’ve been self publishing now for approaching two years, I got aboard really just as the whole self publishing thing began to take off, so I can understand where this comes from but I think it is worth a couple of other points.

One of the problems with writing in general but self publishing in particular is that you are on your own. Starting off you think that means deciding when your work is as good as you can possibly get it, how to release, finding an editor and all the rest of the steps of the creative process. But there is more to it than that.

I spent most of last Sunday and will probably a good chunk of the next working out my tax bill, which is not part of any creative process (no sniggering please) but it is part of self publishing requirements. In effect becoming a self publisher means running a small business with all the complications there of. As I may have mentioned before my own education and employment background is in accounts, something that has been an absolute boon to my writing career. It has allowed me to navigate my own way through the various steps necessary to deal with both the Irish and American Tax Man. Without that background I would likely have to hand over to an accountant and further reduce the profit on my work.

When you consider that the average indie author doesn’t earn much from their work, it isn’t hard to understand how people can burn out, which is a tragedy when it happens. The Indie millionaires are much like the their traditionally published counterparts, the aberrations, for the majority writing is a hard way to earn an honest buck.  The solution at least for me is to keep your expectations real, try to aware of the possible problems before they come up and know when to step back to recharge your batteries.

Regards

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Filed under Self Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing