Friday, 26 August 2011

Publishing an eBook with Smashwords

At Smashwords
Like so many aspiring authors, I felt that I had a really good idea for my debut story. After six years of trying to write part time, I finally took the plunge and began to work full time on the story. After so many years of struggling to get the story sorted out and find my voice, I was alarmed at how quickly everything was coalescing.
I really needed to find an agent. I had been putting it off because I had heard so many stories about how hard it was to find a good agent. The struggle to find a willing publisher would be even worse. I was starting to realize that finishing and editing the book wasn’t even half the battle. It would be years before my story ever saw a sale.
Then, as I surfed the various sites and blogs looking for advice I started to stumble onto authors like Joe Konrath and David Gaughran. David is an excellent author and recent convert to ePublishing. His blog and his latest eBook Let’s Get Digital is a highly inspirational resource for eAuthors. Joe is a well established author and one of the leading prophets of the eBook revolution. His blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is something akin to a masters degree in self publishing your work. This is where I first heard of Smashwords.
Smashwords is a game changer. For an author new to the digital publishing world, getting your book into the major retail sites can seem just as daunting as the traditional publishing process. Smashwords takes that headache off your hands by converting your file for you and shipping it out the major sales sites. They have an automated ‘meatgrinder’ program that converts your file into all the major formats, and human staff that vet the file. Once your file is shown to be free of major flaws (they aren’t editing it for you, just a review of cover quality and general appearance) your book ships out to major retailers. There is no charge for this conversion, they get paid by a commission of 15% for each sale. Not bad when you realize that a traditional author would be lucky to get 15% percent of the sale, let alone 85%!
Congratulations! Just like that, you are a published author!
Don’t go rushing off to buy that bottle of Champaign just yet. You still have to put in some work to get ready for the conversion. You still need to format your book. Fortunately, Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide provides a comprehensive review of all that needs to be done in order to get your masterpiece into premium distribution.
Nonetheless, I did hit a few small snags.
The first was the page breaks. I had put in page breaks to keep the chapter headings at the top of the screen. The style guide warns that the breaks might be stripped out during conversion and that you should put a couple of hard returns before and after so that some separation will be preserved. My problem was that too many of my chapters were ending so close to the end of a page that I had empty pages between chapters. I fixed this by taking out the two hard returns that sat in front of the page break.
The next issue that I came up against was my navigation points. Despite trying to be careful, I somehow managed to double up on one of my bookmarks and ended up with an extra chapter tag that led nowhere. I spent the better part of a day trying to track it down (the engineer in me likes complicated problems). I finally accepted that I could blow away the whole index and rebuild it in an hour. Finally – success – sort of.
I failed my first vetting because I had colored text. I didn’t figure the dark grey text in my chapter headings would be an issue, but Smashwords is very clear about text needing to be black. Colors can disappear on some screens. I changed them and re-submitted.
I failed my second vetting because I had colored text. I was kind of confused by this one – I had selected the entire document and changed the whole thing to black font so what could I have missed? Then I looked at the very end where the ‘About A.G. Claymore’ links were. I had to change the hyperlinks from blue to black. I fiddled around for a few frustrating hours before I realized that they weren’t going to change colors unless I changed the underlying hyperlink style in Word.
Finally, I had a convertible document. It went back through the meatgrinder and into review status on my dashboard. Within a couple of days I was pleased to see my status upgraded to ‘approved’! The book is now for sale at all major retailers.
All you have to do to start the process is – well – start the process. The two or three days that I spent formatting the first novel will likely only take a few hours for the sequel.
The only question you have to ask is this; do you want a traditional publishing deal where your books might get a couple of months shelf time for pennies a sale, or do you want them to sell as eBooks for as long as you want, for dollars a sale?
Smashwords can help you with that, when you’re ready.  

Monday, 22 August 2011

Death of a Salesman - Legacy Publishers and eBook Pricing

 Looking through the Kobo site, I noticed a strange thing - the prices are upside down.
As an example, Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Objective (Okay, it’s really Eric Van Lustbader’s work at this point) sells for $14.99 as an eBook.  In a world where the vast majority of self published eBook authors are trending towards the magic $2.99 price point, this seemed like a real kick in the teeth. Out of curiosity, I decided to check what a paperback would cost. Going to their main site, I was stunned to see that the paper back retails for $10.00 – 67% of the eBook price. On the face of it, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Then I remembered David Gaughran’s analysis in let’s Get Digital. The big publishers are trying to protect the sales of their physical books. That means you pay for paper, printing, distribution and sales outlet overhead even when you’re simply downloading a copy of the file off their server.

So, what does this mean for the major publishers? With the deep discounts on physical books and the prohibitively high pricing on eBooks, it doesn’t seem like much will be left for the author. How long before the Van Lustbaders of the writing world look at the money they could be making if they left the big firms? It’s not like they need the ‘marketing reach’ of the traditional publishing houses. They are already known brands. They could move their stories as eBooks far more effectively if they weren’t up against the pricing policies of their publishers.
Having worked for a company with yearly revenues of more than $35 Billion, I have witnessed some breathtakingly bad decisions. The logic may have worked within the confines of the decision, but it often failed to account for the company’s health as a whole. This may be happening now with the big firms. They think chasing everyone away from the lifeboats will save the ship but there really is no saving the ship – those lifeboats are their future. Maybe it’s not the final straw for the legacy publishers, but it could be one of the nails in their coffins.
How long before we start to see an exodus of major authors?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Phone Scams & Hide-a-Beds

Skype Phone by re-ality
Under Attribution 2.5 Generic License
Another one of those calls – Because you are a valued (insert random company name here) customer you are entitled to receive (insert wildly unlikely reward here).  When I was working at a desk job, I often went along with it just to waste their time. I would ask a million questions and act excited while slowly giving out false credit card information. I figure I’m entitled to a little compensation: they are trying to rob me after all.
The last time it happened at work, I spent five minutes on the phone with the guy, trying to convince him to buy an old hide-a-bed couch that we had in our cellar. I was kind of amazed that he stayed on the line for so long. He kept telling me that he might be interested in the couch, but could he please have the information needed to sort out my credit card problem first. I finally told him that I had to go because I didn’t  think he was serious about the couch at all.
I even had someone claiming to be from the bank, except it wasn’t the bank that I dealt with. “A problem with my account?” I said, anger creeping into my voice. “The proceeds from selling the condo are in there,” I yelled, as my co-worker stuck her head over the cubicle wall with a raised eyebrow. “Are you telling me that you lost over two hundred grand of my money?” I could almost hear the heart palpitations on the other end of the line as my would-be thief imagined what he could do with all that cash. I kept him on the line for at least ten minutes while I went to look for my account information.
When I got back with a fresh mug of coffee I could hear him talking to someone in the background in hushed tones. I tapped the phone on the desk and they went silent. “OK, I have my statement here, what exactly do you need?” He was in the middle of telling me how I needed to give him the account number and online banking log-in when I cut him off. “Wait, did you say (insert random bank name here)?” When he confirmed that it was indeed that bank, I delivered the Coup de Grace. “Oh, I my account is with (insert MY bank name here). You must have the wrong number!” I sounded SO relieved. “You really scared me there!” I told him with the air of one who is re-living a frightening moment with an old companion – he hung up without another word.
It seems to me that the police don’t really seem to take this stuff seriously. They repeatedly claim that they aren’t able to do anything about it. Is it really that easy to hide from the police even when they have your phone number? Why do police shows like Law & Order – Elevator Inspection Unit always show someone sitting there with a pile of gear, tracing the bad guys call? Shouldn’t it be more realistic?
“Got the number, Captain! 555-1234.”
“Well, nothing we can do with it - our hands are tied.”
Kind of annoying really. With the money they blew on that tracing gear, they could have bought my old hide-a-bed for their break-room.
At least the Canadians have come up with a “do not call” registry. You send in your phone number and it goes on the list. Companies then have to subscribe to the list so they know who they can legally call. Even better, the scam artists subscribe to the list so they know who they can illegally call – no more random dialing for them! Personally, I can’t wait for the “Don’t mug me because I walk dark streets at night with tons of cash in my pocket registry” Should be a roaring success…
Anyway, I have to go. I’m helping the King of a small European nation move his cash out of the country. All I have to do is put enough seed money in his account here, so the Bank will give him a higher interest rate when he transfers his money.
Sounded like a really nice guy on the phone…

Monday, 15 August 2011

The sleeping Giant - eBooks and India - Pt 2

The old and the new - Mysore, India Photo By A.G. Claymore
A few weeks ago, I posted about the potential that India represents in the eBook market. Days later, Amazon announced that they were in talks with possible Indian eCommerce players (purely coincidence, I assure you…). So now we stand back and wait to see how it plays out. You might say we are in the eye of the hurricane. One of the leading eBook retailers is taking the worlds second largest population seriously, but what form this will end up taking is still unknown.
Library is undoubtedly important. One of the biggest points of discussion about eBook penetration tends to be the language targeted libraries. Amazon has a decent library for the German market with more than 150,000 titles. Kobo recently came to the game with 80,000 German language titles and a German version of the Kobo touch eReader. It will definitely be one of the major factors in India. They were producing literature on the sub-continent when my ancestors were still following wild herds. A lot of the existing literature will be public domain. Making local heritage available as free eBooks would go a long way towards naming a winner in the eReader race.
Just thinking of the potential makes my head hurt. The state could even subsidize the readers for the school system. If you could provide texts in eFormat, that could eliminate literally tons of books that get beat up and replaced on a continuous basis. A child could sign out the reader at the start of the school year, loaded with the texts (on a mass license) and then return it at year’s end, or buy it out.
That brings us back to the one issue that can make or break the eBook revolution in India. The price. In North America, eReader sales took off when the price hit 0.5% of per-capita GDP. I believe it a reasonable assumption that that kind of metric is directly transferrable.  If eReaders in India were to cost 0.5% of per-capita GDP then you will be able to walk into a tech store in Bangalore and hear the same thing I hear down the street at Indigo – “sorry, we carry that model of eReader but they sell out the same day we get a shipment in.”
So, what is that magic price in the Indian economy? Roughly Rs. 530, or twelve dollars US. If someone figures out a way to provide a good reader at that price, tied to their own library, they’ll ride the hurricane all the way to the bank.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Once you start down the dark path - forever will it dominate your destiny...

Books by Katmere under
Attribution 2.5 Generic License
Until a few weeks ago, I was one of those people who always said that they would use an eBook reader but that the tactile experience of holding a ‘real’ paper book would always be king. There was something about the feel of the pages that you just couldn’t replicate. Right?

A week ago, we bought a second Kobo and I've loaded it with the usual collection of old public domain books. I also have newer releases that I want to read without waiting a year for the soft-cover. That counts as a point already – lower price (slightly) and quicker release.
What really pushed me past the tipping point was reading while holding my three month old son. I was holding the Kobo (this is not an ad, it’s just what we bought), and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to hold a paperback or hardcover the same way. I would have to hold a finger against the spine to hold it open to the right page and it would be tricky when I got to the part of the book where the spine is cracked. Most of our books get re-read several times and, sooner or later, they start to fall apart.
And forget about turning a paper page without waking my son…
As I slid my thumb over to change a page, I realized that I had crossed over to the dark side of the – umm – market? The convenience is hard to ignore. I still love our personal library with its hundred linear feet of shelving. It will get one further expansion when we move it into the new office downstairs but that's the end. We'll probably do most of our reading with eBooks except for series that we have already started on hardcopy.
I don’t think eBooks are going to fade away. They will probably consolidate into one universally accepted format but I think it is a bit late to keep saying they are future. They are already past the point of no return. Hard-copy sales continue to plummet and eSales continue to climb. Check the published quarterly returns of any major book seller.
Putting it another way - How many of you still buy vinyl records?