Friday, September 21, 2018

September 21, 2018: Notes on the Publishing Business

My reading today has turned up a few good articles. 

First, how traditional publishing can ruin your career:

"Turns out that Tor, through its parent company Macmillan has started a program in which libraries cannot get ebooks of the latest Tor releases until four months after the book is released.

Remember this is traditional publishing, so velocity is important. How fast a book sells has an impact on whether or not that writer’s next book will even get an offer from the publisher. And here—stupidly—is a publisher that has decided that library ebook sales aren’t worthwhile.

Tor/Macmillan’s reasoning? To see if library ebook sales are the reason that the company’s ebook sales are so low. That thinking is so damn stupid that I can barely type the words.

Macmillan has poor ebook sales because they have adopted a policy of discouraging ebook sales in favor of print sales. Macmillan adopted this policy in late 2009 when they conspired with Apple and 4 other publishers to violate antitrust law by forcing Amazon to accept what is called agency pricing, a system where the publishers set the price and retailers are prohibited from deep discounts and sales.

That is established historical fact, and so is the antitrust suit brought by the DOJ, Macmillan settling the lawsuit, its punishment, and Macmillan’s return to agency in 2014.
Indie (self) publishing has been around long enough now that I sometimes forget how good we have it now—if we choose to run our own businesses.

I have also blocked out just how awful traditional publishing was to most writers, including me. I try not to look at the train wrecks happening to my friends and colleagues who are still being traditionally published. But sometimes, like today, it is hard to look away." 

Read the entire article.

Next - Poets: strike while the iron is hot! Bookstore owners: You might want to consider expanding your poetry section!

"In its just-released look at trends in arts attendance and literary reading, it reports the percentage of American adults who read novels or short stories has declined over the past five years, from 45.2 percent in 2012 to 41.8 percent in 2017. The percentage who read poetry has increased over that same period, from 6.7 percent to 11.7 percent." 

Read the entire article.

Lastly, I read an article on advertising for authors. I thought the 7 principles were worth reading. The article gets a bit technical - it describes the testing methodology, but is worth a look.

PRINCIPLE 1: Most, if not all, of your profit will come from sellthrough. This means the longer your series, the more money you can generally spend advertising it. Advertising a standalone novel is difficult (and rarely profitable outside of a BookBub Featured Deal), and not recommended unless you’re a highly skilled marketer.

PRINCIPLE 2: Focus your advertising on Book 1. Even in a series of standalone novels, many new readers will start with Book 1. Advertising later books typically produces smaller returns. Only advertise later books if you get a BookBub Featured Deal, or if you’ve exhausted all options for Book 1.

You can also advertise a series starter box set—e.g. Books 1, 2 & 3. The general principle here is that it’s easier to sell new readers on the beginning of the series (otherwise known as your funnel starter).

Advertising only Book 1 has the added benefit of making the administrative side far more manageable. Tracking ads for five or ten titles in a series is a nightmare.

As a final note, you should also advertise your latest release in a series—especially during the launch— but it’s much harder to analyze the data in the manner outlined below. There are too many variables skewing the launch numbers to make such analysis useful.

Instead, the general purpose of advertising the latest book is visibility and general awareness: making sure your fans are aware that it’s out, while also drawing some new eyeballs to the series.

PRINCIPLE 3: When using promotional sites, stick with proven options. You can find my curated, regularly updated list of recommended sites here.

PRINCIPLE 4: When running PPC ads, start small ($5 – $10/day). Make sure your ads are profitable before attempting to scale. If your ads are unprofitable at a small spend, a larger budget only increases your losses.

PRINCIPLE 5: While extremely useful, these metrics—cost per download, sellthrough, revenue per download, conversion et al—are estimates. Due to the nature of Amazon’s reporting and plain old variance, it’s impossible to predict with absolute certainty that your sellthrough will be precisely 41.4% over the next three weeks, that your book will convert at 32.5% on Tuesday, or a certain promo site produced exactly 921 downloads.

With that in mind, always factor in a margin of safety when advertising.

PRINCIPLE 6: Advertising most books will not be profitable (outside of BookBub Featured Deals). This is not a reflection on the book’s quality. Many books simply don’t hit the right commercial notes to resonate with a larger audience.

If you find, after running the numbers, that you’ve written such a book or series, don’t worry—but don’t force the issue by advertising anyway. This is how you rack up huge losses.

There are free marketing alternatives for these titles: mentioning them in your newsletter and autoresponder, entering cross promotions, social media, your website, and so forth.

PRINCIPLE 7: Profitable advertising requires consistent testing. You can—and should—use advertising principles, tactics, and ideas that have proven profitable for other authors. But ultimately, you must develop your own ads and ideas by finding what works for your books.

This is the number one rule of advertising. If you forget everything else, be sure to test.

One key note on testing: when adjusting your book’s back matter, blurb, cover, price, or other elements that affect the numbers, only change one major element at a time. If something impacts your numbers, you want to know exactly what was responsible.

That wraps up our key principles.
Read the entire article.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

September 20, 2018: On The Publishing Business

Today's blog reading brought this article to my attention. Here are some thoughts from a writer who has been published by Harper-Collins, a couple of small presses, and who has also self-published.

“...I was in this zone of being satisfied with just being able to do what I love. But there are just as many moments (okay, more) when I wonder why writers who are not very good become incredibly famous and wealthy, and writers who I really admire and respect are still struggling to find a publisher for their next book.”

“I just assumed that once you got your foot in the door, you established yourself. But as you know very well, it comes down to money, and if you’ve never had a huge seller, it will always be a struggle.”

“Oddly enough, although I’ve had six different agents through the years, not one of them ever found a publisher for any of my books. I’ve always either found them myself or had a friend refer me.”

Read the entire article.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Road Trip in Limbo

I considered attending a Writer’s Digest conference called IndieLab in Cincinnati at the end of September. I told a few of my clients I would probably go. Now I have second thoughts. It’s expensive – and I’m cheap. But, mostly it is because out of all the planned sessions (and I do not think they have finalized the program yet) only a couple speak to the issue that originally drew me to the conference. Here is the conference description: “indieLAB is an interactive gathering for entrepreneurial authors, freelance writers and independent publishers seeking to develop a publishing strategy, build a platform, grow an audience and get paid for their work.”

I think I’ve gotten pretty good at formatting book interiors. I still have more to learn and there is no doubt room for improvement. But what I would really like to offer my clients is assistance with selling books. I have been ineffective in that regard. My clients, with my help sometimes, have tried lots of things: ads, social media blitzes, giveaways – but nothing seems to stick. There might be a slight, very short term blip in sales, which is nice, but nothing that garners a large number of reviews or any momentum for long term, consistent sales.

The program isn’t done yet, so I haven’t ruled it out completely. If I do not go to this one, I’ll definitely keep looking for other articles, conferences, anything to help sell more books.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

My Book in Print!

Here is my book, my only book on paper, in a bookstore. My life is complete!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

KDP Print Update

My books arrived from KDP Print today and I think they look great! I'm pleased with the quality and I will use KDP Print in the future.

How to Make Your Book Formatter Happy!

I know this has been on your mind lately! However, it’s not really all about me (it is). I think that writers should write and formatters should format. And I think that any time you spend trying to make your document look just so is time you are not focusing on your craft. Besides, you may not know this, but just about everything you do to make your document look pretty I have to undo. It’s not because you do it wrong, but because writers compose in an 8.5” x 11” environment, often with double spacing. This make sense; it is comfortable both for writing and for the printing / editing process. But, your printed book will not be an 8.5" x 11" book! With that in mind, I have some suggestions. Most of this is for prose writers. Poets – well, I’m not sure what to do with you! 😀

Stop using two spaces after the period. Just don’t do it. In print books it isn’t that big a deal except for the fact that odds are good you are going to miss a few, or add an extra, and then things look funny. In ebooks, it creates a much bigger problem. I remove them – always. The software does it for me, so it’s not a really big deal. But it’s an old habit from old technology and it’s time to stop.

Never, never use spaces to indent anything: paragraphs, sections that you want indented - anything. I have to remove all of them and it’s difficult and time consuming. I’ll cover paragraphs in the section on tabs, but if you want to indent a section (perhaps you are writing a paragraph in the form of a letter), use the indent key on Word’s toolbar (and if you don’t use Word, your word processor has one too). Just click the button once to tell me you want it indented; remember you are in 8.5" x 11"! Or, easier yet, just leave me special instructions in square brackets [ ] - more on that at the end of this post.

Indent Buttons

Never, never use tabs to indent paragraphs. Never use the tab key – period. I remove all of them. If you want a section indented, use the indent key. If you want your paragraphs indented on the first line, use the styles. Styles in Word are wonderful tools, designed to save you oodles of time. You’ll see the styles in the toolbar. Two are the most important to the prose author: Normal and Heading 1.


This part gets a little geeky, but it’s not that hard. When you start a new piece (don’t do this to an existing, long document), write your chapter heading. Make it look the way you want – center it (use the center button, not spaces or tabs!), bold it – whatever. Highlight the beautiful heading you just created and right-click the Heading 1 style and choose “Update Heading 1 to Match Selection” and now all your chapter titles, using Heading 1, will look like that. Next time you write a chapter title, highlight and click Heading 1 and it will change to that style.

Update Style to Match Selection

Same procedure with the Normal style: write a paragraph. Set it up the way you want it. Use the ruler to set your first line paragraph indent (drag the little upside-down triangle thingie to do that), set the line spacing to 2.0, maybe change the font and size to something you like better for writing.

Upside-down Triangle Thingie to Set Paragraph Indent

Set Line Spacing

Once you’re done, highlight the paragraph you just created and then right-click the Normal style and choose “Update Normal to Match Selection.” Done. Don’t worry about the first line of a chapter or section (it should not have an indent); that’s my job.

Never, never use the Enter key to advance to a new page. I have to remove all of those too. Use the Insert Page Break button. Or better yet, don’t do any page breaks at all. Because, I have to remove all of your page breaks anyway to format the headers and page numbers correctly! If I see your chapter heading, I’ll know to insert the appropriate break. However, having written myself, I know it’s nice to have chapters start on a new page. So, use the button!

Insert Page Break

Keep your titles short. What looks good in 8.5” x 11” might not work well in 5” x 8”. If you want a table of contents, long chapter titles mean either a wrapped table or a tiny font. And the top of the page can look unbalanced or goofy if the title is really long. Poets: keep in mind that your lines will wrap if they are long – you have about 6.5” to work with at 8.5” x 11” with a 1” margin left and right; you only have 4” if your book is 5” x 8”!

Avoid ellipses or dashes at the end of a sentence. Inevitably, they wrap and end up on a line all by themselves. It’s like a law of nature or something.

Lastly, if you have special instructions for your formatter, put them in square brackets [ ]. You can tell me to indent this section rather than do it yourself. Or even [format this like an email] and I’ll do my best to get it to look right – that way you can focus on the content, not the look.

I hope these suggestions help you focus on what you do best: creating the content.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Too Many Books Being Published?

Recently I posted that Createspace was taking longer than normal. They process 1,500 books every day – 365 days a year. And, that was a figure from 2016! I would assume it’s even larger now.

I also saw an article on one of the blogs I follow, sort of under the topic of “there are too many books being published” - a topic I run across once in a while. From the article:
  • Title: “No, you probably don’t have a book in you”
  • Subtitle: “A literary agent on why your good story isn’t likely to be a bestseller.”
  • “Every story is not a book.”
  • “Publishing is a retail industry, not a meritocracy.”
  • “Writing is hard.”
  • “You can tell a story to anyone who’s willing to listen. But writing a book that people will pay money for or take a trip to the library to read, requires an awareness few storytellers have. It is not performance, not a one-person show. It’s a relationship with the reader, who’s often got one foot out the door.”
Read the entire article...

Harsh words. But, haven’t we all read books that seem to be stuffed with filler that should really have been short stories at best?

I’m not posting this to discourage anyone from writing, trying to get an agent of publisher, or self-publishing. I do implore you to tell the story, and let it fall where it may. Don’t force it to fit the expectations of a genre. If it ends up a 5,000 word short story, so be it. If it ends up a 150,000 word epic – ditto. There is a place for both in publishing today.

Problems With Third-Party Sellers on Amazon

Harold Walker’s latest book, The Grotto, recently went online at Amazon for $19.99. But, something weird happened. Before his Amazon listing was available, a third-party outfit called Prepbooks offered his book for $27.34 on Amazon! How did they get online before Harold’s own listing got online? One person, that Harold knows of, bought the book at this price. Equally mysterious, when the Amazon listing came online at $19.99 (within an hour or so of the Prepbooks listing), the Prepbooks $27.34 listing disappeared! I never really solved that mystery, but third-party sales of your books are an issue that you should be aware of.

I checked the Amazon and Createspace forums for information on this and the vast majority of posts said to chill – that for self-publishers like us this isn’t that big an issue. The third-party will buy the book from Amazon, you will get your royalty (on your list price, not their price) and ship your book to the buyer. (Note: It does appear that is what happened yesterday with Harold’s book – there is a sale recorded.) However, a couple of issues still loom. First, one of your dear readers, or a friend, might overpay for your book. That stinks. Worse yet, the third-party listing might say “Out of Stock” - since they technically are, and that might make people not order your book.

I also found some articles online about this issue, but it’s a much bigger deal for the big 5 publishers than us. Apparently these third-party outfits are getting their hands on returned books from bookstores and selling them as new online. Then, the publisher and author gets nothing. That doesn’t happen to our books because we don’t have large inventories or returns to deal with. (Though piracy may occur sometimes.)

What to do? First, make sure when you advertise your book to include the price. That way people will not be so inclined to overpay. Encourage your readers to buy either directly from you (at a reading or event) or directly from Amazon – NOT through third parties. When they click the Buy button on Amazon, it says who they are buying from. Lots of people probably don't look, but we should encourage them to pay attention. Here’s how it shakes out:
  1. You buy at author cost and sell yourself: even with shipping, depending on what you sell it for – you’ll probably make the most profit.
  2. Direct from Amazon. Usually at least 3 – 4 TIMES the royalty you make at expanded distribution.
  3. Expanded distribution: you make the least royalty. This includes third-party sellers and places like Ingram – that bookstores order from.

You could opt out of expanded distribution, which would lock out third-party sellers. But by doing this you also lock your book out of Ingram and other legitimate distributors. If your book is not likely to be carried by bookstores, then there is little downside. I took my sole book out of expanded distribution just on principle. It’s a short 52 page book that will never see a bookstore unless I put it there.

Here are some of the articles I read about this, but remember they are whining mostly about the large publishers and I have a difficult time feeling sorry for them:

Monday, July 30, 2018

Words From the Past

"The power which has always started the greatest religious and political avalanches in history rolling has from time immemorial been the magic power of the spoken word, and that alone.

The broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech. All great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the word hurled among the masses; they are not the lemonade-like outpourings of the literary aesthetes and drawing-room heroes.

Aldoph Hitler – Mein Kampf

Italicized emphasis added by me.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Financial Headlines

I read a bunch of blogs every weekday. Most of them are about the publishing world, but I also follow some financial related ones. Today's headlines are ominous:

  • Stock outflows swell as investors seek refuge in bonds
  • Housing market looks headed for its worst slowdown in years
  • U.S. jobless claims rebound from more than 48-and-a-half-year low
  • Nightmarish profit warnings have Detroit reliving bad old days
tRump: "Trade wars are good, and easy to win."

Maybe not so much. He's hurting our country. Please get out and vote in November so that our system of checks and balances can work again!

Winding Down Createspace | Impressions of KDP Print

I read that Amazon has announced that they are closing the Createspace DVD/CD Production component and switching everyone to Amazon Media on Demand. Amazon previously shut down the Createspace Publishing Services group (the people that would format the book for you) and started KDP Print. I think it's obvious Amazon will shut down the rest of Createspace soon.

At Createspace, you submit your book files and then wait for them to review them prior to ordering, or viewing, a proof. Historically the review process has taken 24 hours or less. The last two books I've submitted (one last week, one this week) have taken closer to 36 hours. I went on the Createspace forums and saw that I'm not the only one to have experienced this. Either they are extremely busy (on average they process 1,500 books every day - 7 days a week) or they have moved people to KDP Print and there are fewer people available to process the Createspace submissions. While I have no facts to back this up, I suspect the latter is probably the case. It only makes sense.

I combined my two published ebooks into one book to try out KDP Print. Here are my impressions:
  • The specs for the PDFs, both the interior and the cover, appear to be exactly the same. I also evaluated a new tool in this process, but I didn't have to change anything in regards to margins, bleed considerations, sizing the cover...
  • The screens are different, but they ask for the same information. 
  • The flow is different. At Createspace you submit your files and then they review them prior to ordering your proof. At KDP Print, you must review your book digitally and click "Approve" prior to being given the option to order a physical proof. Not a bad idea really, it's just different. You can order a physical proof prior to clicking the Publish button. The review process, however, happens after you click the Publish button - a difference from Createspace. I think I'd rather they conduct their review prior to me spending money on a printed proof, but we're the publishers and the burden is on us to do the book right.  It's hard to complain when they aren't charging us a penny for the whole process. 
  • The review process at KDP Print happened in about 12 hours for the first review. They discovered a mistake I made in the book's header. I fixed it and the second review happened in about 2 hours. I don't think that this timing will necessarily continue as the vast majority of self-publishers are still using Createspace, but I was pleased. The KDP Print screen says the review can take up to 72 hours, so we'll see what happens once Createspace is shut down. After getting the OK I clicked Publish. I ordered some copies. I haven't seen them yet, but I would bet they use the same printing facilities as CS, so I don't expect the quality will be any different.
  • I had some difficulty selecting Expanded Distribution when I initially loaded my book. It would not let me, but it gave me no message - it just didn't work. However, after publishing I selected it and it worked fine. Perhaps I wasn't allowed to select that prior to publishing, but it should either not be an option or tell me what's going on.
  • I also submitted the ebook version of my new work. I really liked that. I didn't have to sign out of Createspace and sign into KDP to accomplish everything, it all happened in one session very smoothly. 

So far, I would be fine with putting a new client on KDP Print. I might change my mind after I see my printed books, but I doubt that there will be a problem. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New Tools for Self-Publishing

I've been using Scrivener for ebook design since I started doing it 6 years ago. When I began doing printed books I used Microsoft Word. For a long time, if a client wanted both printed and ebook I'd have two source files to maintain if post-publishing changes were needed. I liked the extra control I got from Scrivener for the ebook process (though I had to use Sigil to get the table of contents just right), but could not get the Createspace formatting done through Scrivener.

Now, Amazon has come out with Kindle Creator. I can convert a Word document formatted for print, without removing the headers, footers and special formatting (e.g., drop caps). It works quite well. You can choose from a few themes to give your Kindle version a really nice look. The only downside: no EPUB file, which clients are more and more asking for.

I've also become unhappy with the way Word handles images. I have to go to what I consider ridiculous lengths to get my PDFs to contain images at 300 dpi or better. Word has a couple of settings where you can tell it not to compress images, but the Save As PDF option seems to ignore that. I tried third-party PDF printer software, but my PC began to shut down, completely, randomly. I uninstalled those programs and no problems since. I felt like I was screwed!

Some friends recommended Adobe's InDesign, but it's expensive and I'm cheap. I considered Acrobat too, but with the PC crashing issue I thought that would be a bad idea.

I read online that some formatters were happy with Libre Office. First, it's open source and free! So far, the Writer program has worked out great.

  • Page styles work just like Word's sections, giving me the control I need over headers, footers and page numbering.
  • Text and paragraph styles work the same as Word.
  • Images put in at 300 dpi stay at 300 dpi after the export to PDF - without any third-party PDF converters!
  • The export to EPUB works great too. I don't have to remove all the print formatting! I still need to use Sigil to tweak the table of contents, and the Kindle Previewer to create the .mobi file.

One source document and I get all three: PDFs for print with the images done right, EPUB and .mobi files. I'm sure I'll discover some things I don't like, but so far I'm quite pleased.

July 31 update: I discovered that the export to EPUB does not support images. Normally this isn't a problem, but sometimes it is. Supposedly, the 6.1 version, due out August 12th, does support this. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What Happened to the Internet?

It had so much promise. I was a true believer, in both the power of the internet and self-publishing to free us from the shackles of the gatekeepers. It hasn't turned out the way I had hoped.

The internet has morphed from a decentralized collection of authors and ideas to an advertising medium dominated by a few huge players: Facebook, Twitter, Google and some smaller players. I do believe some people think Facebook IS the internet now. I read an article in Vanity Fair recently about this very topic. In it, Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the worldwide web, expressed some regret:

"Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation."

"'The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has “ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.'”

"The power of the Web wasn’t taken or stolen. We, collectively, by the billions, gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology. Facebook, Google, and Amazon now monopolize almost everything that happens online, from what we buy to the news we read to who we like. Along with a handful of powerful government agencies, they are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways."
Read the entire article.