Tag Archives: Publishing

Kindle Scout – My Submission

As of about 10pm last night, I have submitted my next book Surreality for consideration under the Kindle Scout program.

SurrealityKindleScoutSubmitted

Right now I’m in the waiting period for my materials to be reviewed. In a few days I should be receiving details as to the launch date of the 30 day campaign, as well as previews of how the site will look. It’s a bit of a nervous feeling, more so even than when I published my fractal books. The one payoff of those projects is that they were available for purchase pretty much immediately after I uploaded them. Here I have 45 days to wait and see if Amazon Press will be publishing my book, or if I’ll work with Kindle Direct Publishing as I did before.

A lot of things went into preparing the campaign. They say you can do it in 15 minutes, but they’re only talking about the literal form filling out process (and that’s if you don’t read the EULA as I did). Since this is a blog chronicling technology and aspects of the writing process I thought this would be a good time to give you my impressions of submitting to Kindle Scout, and help fill in a few gaps in the FAQ’s they provide.

Treat this like a real publishing contract, because it is:

The short version of this statement is don’t assume anything. The Kindle Press contract has some specific terms about what rights go to Amazon and when and how they revert to you. Even if you aren’t selected for publication the materials on the Kindle Scout website are not automatically removed.

  • Amazon will remove your materials from the Kindle Scout site after you request it in writing (but not automatically).
  • If you publish with Kindle Press certain rights automatically renew if sales goals are met, while others can be reverted to you if Kindle Press hasn’t exercised them or sales targets are not met. Again, this doesn’t happen automatically. You have to request reversion of your rights.
  • Amazon sets the price of the book. No big surprise but it might be a factor for some people. They control the marketing.

My advice is to print a hard copy of the EULA as well as saving a digital copy to your computer. And I know it’s long, but do read it. It’s not a bad deal, but you should understand it.

Author Questions / Bio

You can select author questions from a list of about 15 questions Amazon has come up with. Responses are 300 characters long for each question. Use this space to talk about books you like and what inspires you. Your Bio is only 500 characters and probably should be more about who you are and where you live.

Look at other submissions

It was very helpful to me to see what others were doing for things like their descriptions and taglines. 45 characters is not much space to describe your book, but you’d be amazed what some people come up with. The tagline should evoke the feeling of the book, the description should tell you what the book is about.

Make your thank you a thank you

This is a personal opinion, but I don’t think a thank you should be sales pitch as Amazon suggests. You’ve already mentioned where people can find you in social media links, maybe answers to questions and your bio. Let the thank you statement just be a thank you for people who took the time to vote for you.

Submit a book that’s ready to publish

I don’t know how this is going to go, but Surreality is coming out one way or another. I’ve voted on a number of other books on the site, some that have been selected for publication, and others that haven’t. If you vote for a book, you’ll get a notice if the author self-publishes it on Amazon and it’s probably a good idea to do this when people still remember who you are. As for the books that won, Amazon expects a final draft with 30 days of you being picked and will go ahead with what you’ve submitted if you don’t update them. Again, this is the real deal, treat it as such.

Tomorrow I’ll talk a bit about the cover shoot. Anyone else got a campaign running?

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Giving Scouting Another Look

A little less than a year ago, I wrote about a new Amazon program called Kindle Scout.

The bottom-line is this:

  • Readers read excerpts of books and vote for their favorites (up to 3 per month). This voting data is used by Amazon to consider the next crop of books it will publish out of Kindle Scout. If a book you voted for is picked, you get a free copy.
  • Authors whose books are selected get a $1500 advance, 50% eBook royalty and a 5 year exclusive Amazon publishing contract (plus marketing promotions, audiobook and international sales,etc.)

According to the Scout FAQ you retain print rights, which you can use to publish the book through a traditional publisher or through CreateSpace. It’s a little unclear if the book would be eligible for Kindle Matchbook (free or discounted eBook copies for purchasers of the physical book) under these circumstances.

Keeping print rights is actually important to me for a couple of reasons:

  • The fractal books were too expensive to produce print copies, so I never got something I could hold in my hand after a year and a half of work. This was understandably a little disappointing.
  • Print copies allow me to gift my book to friends easily, with signed copies.
  • I can take advantage of unconventional local scale marketing by donating books to little library boxes.
  • There’s at least the possibility that I could sell the book to local independent book stores.

The pros and cons of going with Scout seem to be these:

Pros:

  • Money up front.
  • Amazon featured marketing, beyond the programs you can get through KDP.

Cons:

  • Lower eBook royalty.
  • Less control over how the book is priced, marketed.
  • Long Amazon exclusivity. Less flexibility to try other channels.

Truthfully, I’m on the fence about this. I like the control that comes from going “full indie”, but I recognize that can make it a lot harder for a book to be discovered. And there’s a certain amount of upfront interest that has to be generated for the book for it even to make Amazon’s cut.

Have any of you tried Scout? What has been your experience?

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing

Amazon Scouts for new talent

Or actually they get you to do it.

Amazon seems to be rolling out new programs for its readers and writers every couple of months. This latest, Kindle Scout, offers readers the chance to vote for the next big thing in books, or more specifically, who gets a 5 year contract and $1500 advance from Amazon.

For readers it doesn’t seem like a particularly bad deal. You get to sample the first few pages of a lot of authors, pick your favorites, and if a lot of people agree with you, you get a free copy of the full book. Even if you don’t get free books, odds are you’ll have found something new you might not otherwise have discovered.

And for writers it’s not so bad either, particularly if you’re just starting out. The full terms are a 5-year renewable contract for exclusive worldwide eBook and audio-book rights in return for the $1500 advance and a 50% royalty. True, you have less control over how your book is published than you do with Amazon’s 70% self-publishing option, but you also have Amazon’s¬†Featured Marketing which seems to include participation in Kindle Unlimited and the Lending Library (both things you get with the exclusive 70% option) but also e-mail and targeted promotions (whatever that means).

If you read the Publisher’s Lunch newsletter, then you know that $1500 advance is not a big deal, but it is a nice one. Here’s how the calculation works for someone who was going to sell their book exclusively on Amazon for the 70% option at $2.99.

To earn $1500 in royalties you would need to sell 717 copies of your book (assuming no appreciable transmission fees that cut into your royalty) at $2.99 (70% royalty). If you think you’re going to sell less copies of your book, then a $1500 advance is pretty good. Just to compare apples to apples you’d need to sell about $2143 in merchandise to earn $1500 if you go it alone.

To earn your advance if published by Kindle Press you’d need $3000 in sales before you’d start earning additional royalties (regardless of the individual price of each book which is a little difficult to parse and probably will vary on Kindle Scout). That might sound like a lot more, but hopefully Amazon’s marketing would help with that as they obviously have some interest in you earning the money they paid for you.

Problems I see are these: If a book is really popular in its Scout campaign, it stands a risk of most of its copies going to the people who voted for it, and not for people who spent money. And exactly how much social media or random reader clout is necessary to break the threshold is a little nebulous as well, and probably varies from cycle to cycle. Amazon might take a risk on you initially, but if you don’t earn your advance or maybe even the $25,000 they hope you’ll earn in your 5-year contract, they may not give you another one. That’s true for just about anywhere in the publishing industry though so maybe its worth the risk.

And some people in the literature community might be uncomfortable with the idea of books being selected by popular vote, and not by the standards of literary agents and publishers. Scout’s genres at the moment are sci-fi, mystery and romance, which have always been more populist genres, but this is a real experiment in whether the crowd can actually pick quality.

But that’s really what our publishing landscape looks like these days. Readers and writers alike need to be willing to experiment to find what works for them. I’m not sure if I’d submit a book to this program or not, but I am considering it. If I do, I hope I can count on all of you to vote for me and in return I’ll vote for you to ūüôā

Have you guys checked out Kindle Scout? Thoughts?

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing

Is there room for me?

By one estimate, a new book is published on Amazon every 5 minutes (though this might include apps as well). Almost every one of these books is a self-published indie book. At current count Amazon has over 3.4 million books and counting. This doesn’t seem like a very encouraging statistic for those of us who want to make a life at writing, but here are some words of encouragement that might help you be found amongst the throng.

Remember the web is much bigger – On WordPress alone, where I host this blog, 41.7 million new posts are created each month. About 15-16 of those are mine. And yet I’ve got over 3000 subscribers, and a comfortable number of daily visitors to the site. Chances are if you’re an indie writer, you’re blogging too. It can take a while to form a base, but it is definitely possible, particularly if you have a clear vision for your writing.

Find your niche – I’m not too good at the marketing thing yet (hopefully when Surreality is released I can get a little better), but failings in marketing can be balanced with good SEO (search engine optimization). In other words, write about a specific topic and appeal to a specific segment of the market. You don’t have to be the only one standing in that market, but sometimes it’s better to shoot for the small market that might see you than trying to appeal to the broadest common denominator.

Remember what books are being published – Even with a flooded market, a bad book is a bad book. A lot of how people evaluate books on Amazon are by using reviews, and reading the product description. Chances are if someone can’t write a very good book, they can’t write a good product description either. And even if they can, the first person who buys that book and doesn’t like it will probably go online and say so. I might not be right about this, but I think people have more of a tendency to post a review if they didn’t like something than if they did, so a few positive reviews on your book go a long way.

Some books are written by robots – About 10o,000 of the books on Amazon have been written by an AI, specifically an expert system designed to write extremely technical narrow market reports designed to sell at a premium to 10 people. That’s impressive from a technological perspective, but not something you’re really competing with. Though it might not be the best time to enter the market as a romance author (as that’s the next genre this AI wants to take on).

Define success – Your first book, or even your fifth, probably isn’t going to be the one that lets you quit your day job and live in the writer’s paradise of writing full time. But it might do better than your last book. I wanted to sell between 200-300 fractal books in my first year. Frankly, this seemed like a bit of a stretch goal, but I met it, and sales for next year are looking healthy so far. I make enough money each month for a mid-priced dinner, but hey it’s better than nothing. I have roughly equivalent modest goals for Surreality, and will be excited if I meet or exceed them. The goal is to do a little better with each book, and to just keep writing.

You’re probably doing better than Joe Biden – Remember our Vice President? He had a book out last year and earned about $201 dollars in royalties (according to a May report in Gawker). I earned more than twice that last year for a book about fractals, and I don’t quite have the same name recognition (or number of appearances on Parks and Recreation).

Amazon is not the only game in town – There are magazines, this little thing called Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Indie Bundle sites, the list goes on. You can have a book be exclusive on Amazon for a while, then try other markets. Or you can eschew Amazon altogether and strike out to sell your book directly off your blog. The writing community and the blog community is a pretty friendly one. If they like you’re writing, they’ll probably buy your book, especially if you show the love as well.

Just keep writing, and keep smiling. Remember, I’m pullin’ for ya. We’re all in this together.

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Kindle Unlimited: Look Before You Buy

Amazon announced last week the introduction of a new service, Kindle Unlimited, which gives you access to a library of 600,000 books for $9.99 a month, or a $120 a year. There’s been a lot of buzz about how this might affect libraries , even though most libraries are a free public service. But we do live in a both/and society and frankly my consumption of eBooks is at a level that $10 might actually be a steal, until you dig a little deeper.

In case you haven’t read this, seen the movies, got the t-shirt, or dressed up as a character at a con.

What are the 600,000 books Amazon is offering you? Their advertising features the Harry Potter Series, The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, and Life of Pi. All excellent and popular books. And if you haven’t read them by now, what’s been keeping you? All of these are books you could find in the Half Price Books clearance section for $1.00 a piece, or check them out from your library, or borrow them¬†from one¬†of countless friends. (Full confession: While I’ve seen a lot of the Potter movies I haven’t actually read the books myself, but I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to popular culture).

I’m sorry we don’t have any Grisham, though we do have Grasham.

I did a quick run down of books my wife and I like to read. Like many people, my wife likes John Grisham. Amazon offers dozens of titles by this prolific and excellent legal thriller author, but virtually none are offered in Kindle Unlimited (and the ones that are are short stories or unofficial collaborations). Same goes for Kathy Reichs (author of the Bones series), Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody mysteries), Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse), Marc Maron, Isaac Asimov, Jeffrey Deaver, the list goes on.

All of these authors are available in my local library’s digital lending program. For no cost I can borrow an eBook for 7-21 days, read it on my Kindle, Nook, tablet or computer, and return it with no overdue fees.

So again, what are these 600,000 books exactly? Well a lot of them are KDP select authors, like John Grasham.

Now I love Indie Authors, but…

If you’re the average consumer, who wants to read the latest popular titles for free or for a nominal fee, you might be a little dismayed to find that what you actually can borrow is by an author who’s only sold a couple of hundred copies.

By the way, I’m not picking on John Grasham or any other indie author who publishes on Amazon (considering I am one and Surreality will also be released on that platform). In truth I succumbed to the resemblance of Grasham to Grisham and the fact I peripherally know the author’s relatives (and his book is quite good).

So some consumers will be disappointed they can largely only read self-published work, and the ones that aren’t may be cutting into an indie author’s livelihood.

We all want exposure, to get our name and our books out there. That’s why some authors give books away for free or deeply discounted. But exposure isn’t everything. If you’re enrolled in Kindle Select, you may be kinda hoping for that higher royalty of 70%. Sure Indie Authors get a cut of the lending fund, but that’s nothing compared to what they’d get if they actually sold a book.

And from the looks of it, this wasn’t on their own terms. A number of KDP Select books from authors I know seem to have been automatically enrolled, including work by M. S. Fowle and several author guides in my Kindle wish list.

Okay what about audiobooks?

Audiobooks are probably one of the most price inflated ways to read. A recent indie audiobook bundle advertised containing over $1000 worth of audiobooks, or 11 audiobooks. Audible is an expensive, DRM mired service that is difficult to listen to in the manner you see fit.

My library, on the other hand, offers many books as easily lended audiobooks, many in MP3 DRM free format which makes them easily burned or transferred to devices.

Nutshell time

So in my case, my library actually offers a better service for free than Amazon’s paid service.¬†And by actually buying indie author’s books, I’m supporting their work as I hope they’ll support mine. Kindle Unlimited may have something for you, but your tastes will have to be pretty specific.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Trube On Tech

Really we’re to blame

It’s pretty easy to pick sides in the Amazon vs. Hachette contract negotiation battle. Amazon is evil for removing the buy buttons off many (though not some of the bestselling) Hachette titles, and Hachette is foolhardy for taking this long to negotiate with one of the largest book distributors in the world, considering that the average consumer doesn’t think about publishers, they think about authors.

But here’s the thing, Amazon may be evil for squeezing profit margins down to razor thin amounts, or requiring the eBook to stay at a certain price, but if we wanted that to change, if we actually wanted to make sure that authors and publishers got more of our money, then we would need to be willing to change our behavior.

See the solution to Hachette’s problem with Amazon could be so simple. Instead of selling eBooks through Amazon, it could sell them through its own site, DRM free in epub, mobi and pdf formats. That way the customer actually owns the book, and can read it on the reader or tablet of their choice.

But that solution will never work for two simple reasons: Consumers don’t really care that they don’t own their eBooks (or they simply don’t think about it), and even if they do care, most do not want to have to manage their eBook libraries themselves.

Buying eBooks from many different sources requires organization, and even though there are plenty of good software options for doing so, most would rather Amazon just do it. Hachette’s audience is broad, it houses some of the most popular authors. Sure, some of its audience is tech savvy, but many just want to read and not think about it.

And yeah, maybe you don’t own an ebook, but does it really matter if you’re only ever going to read it once, and you only paid a couple of bucks for it? There’s always risk in losing something, you could be robbed, you could lose a physical book, or drop it in a puddle, or whatever. Owning a book DRM free may reduce your risk of losing the book, but not significantly enough for people to change behavior.

And worst of all, we each make perfectly rational personal economic decisions when it comes to buying books (i.e. we buy the cheapest book we can find). If I want a lot of ebooks, I will want to buy them cheap, and apart from a few book bundles, the answer to that is Amazon. As an author, publishing on Amazon is a must because it’s the best channel for people finding my niche work, despite the fact I can get a better royalty almost anywhere else. But higher percentages don’t matter if they aren’t matched by higher sales.

Now some of us are¬†charitable. We think about who our money is going to, or we’re willing to pay a few extra dollars to get a better product (I’m doing this with the comic book Saga by buying it directly from Image instead of waiting for the cheaper trade). But if we have finite dollars, we probably can’t do that for everything we like, unless we’re willing to buy less things, and that doesn’t seem like us.

So yeah, Amazon is evil. And we’re totally going to keep buying from them anyway. And Hachette is going to keep selling through them. And so am I.

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Why I’m a little tired of hearing from Mark Coker

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, an online indie self-publishing marketplace with a C- better business bureau rating, says that “self-published ebooks will account for 50 percent of ebook sales by 2020”.

That’s ebook sales, not book sales. I think it’s easier for us to imagine that self-published authors will¬†out-pace¬†sales of¬†conventional published books due at least in part to the shear volume of material.

In a Huffington Post article, Coker outlines his rationale and predictions for why self-publishing will be dominant. I’d like to take the opportunity to parse his specific points:

1-2) Print will decline as book-reading format, Brick and mortar bookstores are disappearing – Both true, and something Coker is apparently not happy about. It’s not hard to find eBook advocates who espouse the virtues of physical books and stores. I do most of my reading on an eReader now and yet I still surround myself with physical books. What I’ll actually mourn is secondary stores like Half Price Books. Doesn’t anybody remember when Barnes & Noble and Borders were the threat?

3) The perceived value of publishers will decline in the eyes of writers – I don’t buy this. Even though I’m a self-published author, and intend to continue doing so for certain books, I doubt any one of us wouldn’t jump at the chance to be picked up by a major publisher, especially if it involves a physical book you can sign for others. That’s how you know you’ve arrived. Print on demand is nice but doesn’t feel quite the same. I think until you get a generation of writers who have no relationship with physical books, you’ll still have a desire in the back of your mind to “really” publish as opposed to self-publishing. 2020 is too soon for that to change.

4-5) Indie authors have learned to publish like professionals, The stigma once associated with self publishing is disappearing – ¬†Partially true and getting truer with self-publishing being branded as indie publishing. Diversity of projects is definitely a benefit as is not having to prove profitability immediately. However, I think the more likely outcome is “hybrids” both print and self-publishers (like Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi). They tend to make the most in terms of royalty and have loyal brands around themselves.

6-8)  The number of self-published eBooks will explode, Successful indies are mentoring the next generation of writers, Writers are discovering the joy of self publishing РPoint 6, Agreed. Point 7, True but not personally relevant to every writer as many of us are a rowdy and independent bunch. Point 8, advertising for Smashwords? Truthfully no long form project is exactly a joy and royalties widely vary depending on venue and choices made. That said, I am proud of producing my own eBook product and testing it myself, but this appeals more to the programmer and less to the writer side of myself.

9) Readers don’t care about the publishers name on the ebook’s virtual spine – Agreed. Except I like Baen and Tor for DRM free reasons.

10) There’s a growing rift between writers and publishers – I know writers who resent the “gatekeeper” model of the publishing industry, low royalties, having to self-advertise etc. Don’t imagine the self-publishing world solves all those problems. Search engines are the new gatekeepers even before the readers, higher percentages matter less when you have to price lower to be competitive, and self-advertising is true either way.

Here’s my bottom line takeaway:

1) Indie (Self Pub) Authors need to be open to all avenues of publication (books, eBooks, magazines, blogs, etc.)

2) Writing and publishing are tough jobs and neither have many short cuts.

3) You need to have a good idea of your actual goal (to put your story out there for a few friends, a few hundred enthusiasts, or hundreds of thousands of readers). Do I want to make a living writing, or do I just write to live?

What do you think?

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing, Writing Goals