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March Select Royalty And Not Ready For Prime

I’ll be taking a break from posting next week for Passover, so here’s an early update to the ongoing Kindle Select royalty for KOLL borrows:

Select Royalty March 2014March came in at $2.10 per borrow, so it seems that Amazon is back to targeting $2.00 per borrow as the “standard” royalty.  Of course, they did raise the price of Amazon Prime from $79/year to $99/year in mid-March, and that might have driven a stampede in new sign-ups that would have depressed the March royalty. Well, there’s always April to look forward to.

I’m continuing with my study of whether giving away free books with a Prime promotion is an effective way for new authors to launch a title. Last month I posted some early statistics, today I want to make a few general observations about the books that are being published and promoted for free at a rate of around ten new titles per day.

I’ve been “buying” and sampling every new free SciFi title over 150 pages. It’s not that I don’t like shorter fiction, I just don’t want to go to the hassle of cleaning out my Kindle archive later for the sake of a bunch of experimental shorts. And there are more than enough novels to try every day to keep me busy, in fact, I’m a couple weeks behind.

First observation: The authors of these books aren’t attempting imitate trade books with their interior design. Nearly half of the books use double spacing between lines, which probably doubles the page count, and probably annoys purists. I’m neutral on double spacing. I don’t think it looks good, but I also don’t care, and it beats the small type used in many classic reprints.

Second observation: Many authors seem to believe that they have to produce a unique work in order to publish or to succeed. I don’t mean unique in the sense of original, but unique in the sense of never having been attempted before. It’s not that difficult to come up with unique ideas, just think of something really, really bad and there’s a good chance it hasn’t been done before.

Third observation: Novels have characters and dialogue. I suppose everybody remembers the roll-screen from the original Star Wars that started something like, “A long time ago in a galaxy far away.” But I don’t remember any voice-overs after that. Some new SciFi authors feel that they have to explain everything about their universe before launching into the story, so the book starts:

“In the year 8423 of the Jusherian Calendar, the Great Revolt of the Mugorath began…,” and goes on for tens of thousands of words of invented history before the story even begins. I actually enjoy reading history, but not made-up history, and not when I’m interested in reading a novel.

I’ve seen a lot of talent represented in these books, but I rarely finish them, primarily because the story takes too long to get going. I’m afraid that some of these authors believe that the whole purpose of a first book is to hook people on buying later books in a series. But if nothing happens in the first book, who is going to buy the second?

For those of you celebrating Passover, a happy and a kosher holiday.



Local Meet-ups As A Conference Substitute For Self Publishers

Last month I was thinking about going back to TOC (Tools of Change) in NY, but when I looked for the date, I found that O’Reilly had decided to end their run of publishing conferences. I attended a couple of the early TOC’s on a press pass, and I was very much struck by the disconnect between self publishers and trades. I always encountered self publishers at TOC who were either looking for guidance to the world of publishing or eager to share their experiences, but the sessions were universally geared to the models or concerns of larger publishers and commercial enterprises.

Rather than a conference, self publishers and authors would do better with a large number of regional events or meet-ups that local authors could attend without travel days and expenses. By planning events for a half-day, there would be morning and evening time for travel. A less attractive option would be for meet-ups in the evening hours, because I suspect that might lead to casual attendance, attracting individuals who are simply curious about self publishing rather than committed authors. There’s no problem if the scheduled time turns out to be too short – just schedule another meeting or “date” on the side.

The only expense involved would be the venue, and if the attendance number is a dozen or so authors, it’s often possible to find a local eating/drinking establishment that will let a group use a reserved room for a few hours in return for a reasonable sales guarantee or a low fee. And since there’s no presentation technology required, any room with enough seating would do, including church basements and large private homes. The main requirement to prevent chaos or inaction is a bossy coordinator to push the attendees through the pre-defined activities.

I believe the traditional session model for publishing conferences is dead for self publishers. Practically every contact I’ve had with other self publishing authors over the last fifteen years has pointed to a single requirement that usually goes unfilled, the need to talk with peers face-to-face. Authors need to move beyond the asymmetric online relationships that define much of the blogosphere, Twitterverse, FaceBook, and even the well-behaved discussion lists. Yes, social networking allows everybody to talk, but few people get a serious listen unless they meet in person or at least talk on the phone.

Despite all of the discussion boards and social networks, most self publishers simply don’t know who to trust. At best, all of the newbies put their faith in one or two list gurus, who don’t have the time to support every question from every comer. And authors who seek practical answers online about self publishing are much more likely to be confused by too much information, however well-meaning, than not enough.  No matter how comfortable a person gets with online communications, there’s no substitute for sitting across from somebody and hearing their voice, reading their body language, recognizing when they are impatient, lost or uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation.

The fact that there are at least ten ways to do something doesn’t mean that every author should master the ins-and-outs of all those ways before publishing their first book. The new self publishing has practically no dependence on technology, on standards, etc. It’s a pure content play, pour the bits into the container de jour, which these days is Kindle. New self publishers benefit from the face-to-face tutelage of a single successful author whose work they respect, not the input of an online community of cross-talking strangers, all with their own egos and agendas. Communities are great for troubleshooting technical details or discussing industry trends and problems, but they are a poor substitute for a trusted mentor in a new venture.

The sole purpose of meet-up style self publishing events should be to put authors together face-to-face to give them a chance to click, both professionally and socially. A larger event would distribute authors in small groups through different table-based interest groups rather than having everybody milling around and talking at once. The main event for any meet-up would be an hour or more of something like speed dating, simply to give pairs of people a chance to meet face-to-face and see if their ideas click. It’s not only an opportunity to pair newbies with mentors, but also to give experienced authors a chance to connect with each other so they can share ideas, problems and solutions, in person.

There’s no reason that a group of self publishers meeting in Northampton need follow the same agenda of a group meeting in Austin or Los Angeles. Maybe some groups would welcome cover designers to attend with their portfolios, or editors with example works. The main point is to offer structured time for face-to-face meetings, rather than a feature presentation with a one-to-many broadcast structure.

I think the speed dating approach is important to prevent anybody from getting trapped by a windbag who isn’t even serious about publishing. I’m too polite for my own good when it comes to talking with people at events, and I can recall several occasions where I got trapped in lunchroom conversations with wordy retirees who were attending a conference for entertainment because they could afford the price. Rather than trying to create and enforce a litmus test for attendees, I just want to make sure that every author gets the opportunity to meet a number of peers.

But I’m not a mind reader, so maybe I’m the only self publisher on the planet who has come to the conclusion that the Internet isn’t cutting it as a substitute for real-world encounters with other authors. I’m not going to put the cart ahead of the horse by trying to create an infrastructure for authors to self-organize meet-up type events unless people show an interest. Maybe all it would take is coming up with a unique keyword that authors can search for or use to create groups for their zip code on, but why try if nobody cares?

I’m posting this to see if anybody actually reads to the bottom and is interested enough to leave feedback. If it turns out be of interest, I’m willing to do some coordinating to help get it off the ground.

If I Held A Self Publishing Conference

I wrote the following back in 2007, and I was struck by the difference seven years makes, both in terms of the publishing ecosystem and how new publishers can hope to succeed. I’m presenting it this week as context for next week’s post.

If I Held A Self Publishing Conference

If I was to run a self publishing conference, what would it be like? Keep in mind this is a speculative post written by a guy with an inner ear problem looking at a screen that keeps moving, and bite your tongue if your knee-jerk reaction was “A disaster.” I’m nothing if not sincere, and I don’t believe that the best way to do something new is to copy something old and change it a little. So, for starters, I’d get out of the “Publishers meet in big cities” mindset and go with a writer’s conference location, like a camp in the Berkshires or the Connecticut River Valley. Not by coincidence are both locations within an hour’s drive of my home.

Next, I’d only have one track. While I appreciate all the work that goes into multi-track conferences, I’ve always found that the majority of the sessions in any given track are made-up topics invented to meet the track title. Conference organizers can always find speakers willing to tilt a presentation this way or another, but it doesn’t fool the experts, and the beginners shouldn’t be in a special track to start with. More importantly, a large array of choices will reduce the number of people who will sit out one or more sessions and socialize with fellow publishers, which is the real value of any conference. Unfortunately, it’s human nature, when we’ve paid for something, to look for value in exchange, and with several (or eight) tracks running at once, it’s hard to avoid thinking that one might be a good fit.

Besides, I’m an author as well as a publisher, and I tend to think in terms of book structure. Not some fiction work written from the perspective of multiple personalities, but a nice linear progression that takes the reader somewhere. My one track, three day publishing conference would fill in sessions around the daily concepts, “You write the book; you print the book; you sell the book.” I think three sessions a day is the maximum most people can really benefit from, I’m more of a two session man myself, but three provides leeway to skip one without feeling guilty. I wouldn’t plan any formal sessions at night, but I would line up “true stories” speakers to talk about their ups and/or downs in publishing and to bat around questions over the hum of bug zappers and jet skis on the lake.

Day One – You Write The Book

Session One – Before you write the book, or otherwise commission or acquire a manuscript, you have to do the market research. My panel of experts will discuss methods of market research for publishers with different levels of resources (budgets) and do some live performances of Internet market research on an LCD projector, taking title ideas from the audience. It will be pretty funny after the conference winds up and everybody rushes home to publish the same book.

Session Two – Before you write the book, you got to have the knowledge and the platform. This means either finding the right author, matching an existing manuscript with the market research conclusions, or finding the platform under your feet and writing the book yourself. I know a lot of authors feel they can write a book about anything if you just point them in the proper direction and give them a few competing titles to emulate. While a sincere form of flattery, imitation is not a path I want promoted at my conference. The panel of experts will offer tools you can use to determine if you really have the knowledge and the platform.

Session Three – While the book is being written, you have to deal with the author. I think author relations is one of the most neglected areas in publishing education, in terms of writing a contract that works for both parties, and in terms of giving weight to the author’s input. Too many publishers who know their business model insid-out make the mistake of thinking this means they know more about the book being written than the author. The only way that can be true is if the author is a complete idiot, and if that’s true, the publisher was a real dummy offer a contract. The panel will offer examples of author relations gone good and gone bad that illustrate this point, even if they have to stretch the truth a little.

Day Two – You Print The Book

Session One – Before you print the book, you’ve got to do all that production stuff. Editing, proofreading, fact checking, book design, cover design, layout, etc. Lots of publishers really get into this stuff, I prefer to hire out or do it the easiest way possible myself, but I know I’m in the minority here. The panel will include cover designer, an interior layout and page designer, and an editor. I figure one of each is best so they won’t step on each other’s toes and argue about whether or not you can produce a book in Word or when it’s permissible to end a sentence with if. They’ll all bring examples of work they’ve done, and take questions about the choices made.

Session Two – Before your print the book, you’ve got to decide on the technology and any subsidiary issues, like quantities for offset and discounts for POD. I’m a big case study nut, so I think the best way to present this subject for experts and beginners alike will be with a series of case studies for trade paperbacks and hardcovers covering the whole gamut of basic choices. Keeping an eye on the dollars, everything from paper choice (if you have a choice) to box quantities and weights will be covered. This is the one session I might be inclined to sit on the panel myself, but only as a last minute substitution.

Session Three – Once you print the book, you’ve got to store the book, pack the book and ship the book. Lots of small publishers fall into the line of thinking that marketing is so central it would be a waste of time to price envelopes or buy a postage meter, but it depends entirely on your business model. There’s also the question of dealing with returns, whether you print offset or POD, and when it’s better not to accept returns as a matter of policy or based on discounts. In any case, it pays to put in a weak session in the last slot of day two when people are wearing down and would benefit from a good nap or a swim and a coffee. I’ll save the presenter slots for people who bug me to speak at my conference but don’t have that much to say.

Day Three – You Sell The Book

Session One – Before you can get on a bestseller list, you have to sell your first hundred books. That’s sell through, not convince a chain or distributor to put them on the shelves. Most small publishers I correspond with take it for granted that they’ll sell hundreds of copies just by publishing a book, they have their eyes on the tens or hundreds of thousands. My panel of experts will tell them stories about failed publishers that will make their hair stand up, maybe I’ll toss in my own hardcover disaster. The panel will then terrorize the new publishers in attendance by making them stand up and describe exactly how they intend to sell their first hundred books. The session will conclude with a handout card with a 10X10 grid for new publishers to check off the blanks. For each card with a new ISBN that they fill up, I’ll give them a dollar off at the next years conference and offer them an evening story slot.

Session Two – Once a publisher proves they can sell some books, the next stage is to sell a lot of books. The panel will include an Internet marketing expert who focuses on organic growth websites, an expert who focuses on paid promotions online and in print, an expert on Amazon and the chains, and an expert on press releases and corporate (bulk) sales. After a brief introduction to how they do what they do, the panel will offer marketing advice for specific titles from the audience, and offer blunt advice over whether or not it would be cost efficient to apply a particular marketing approach to a give title.

Session Three – Once a book starts selling, it’s as if it has acquired a life of its own, and the job of the publisher becomes life cycle management. Some of the biggest trade publishers are guilty of assuming that every title’s life cycle should look like a wave form, with peak sales at release dropping off to a trough, at which point a new edition will be released to try to repeat the peak. Remainder issues get swept under the rug and the overhead of churning out new editions is what pays the salaries of many employees. Small publishers have the option to manage the life cycles of their titles with more personal attention and care, recognizing when downturns are due to reasons other than aging. Small publishers following the print-on-demand model also have the luxury of giving titles longer to make it in the marketplace, and often see sales rise for several years before decay sets in. The panel will take the audience through the full and partial life cycles of several published titles, after swearing one and all to secrecy. Those with an aversion to swearing will be asked to participate on the panel instead.

That pretty much wraps up my publishing conference, except to point out that friendly dogs and moderate drinking will be welcome. Please sign an insurance waiver on your way in.

 So what’s changed between 2007 and today? What hasn’t changed, including the three day conference model. Next week I’ll post my 2014 version of how self publishers should get together face-to-face to talk about publishing eBooks, with maybe a little POD thrown in for spice.