Tag Archives: self-publishing

Interview: P. J. Hoover Talks About E-Publishing SOLSTICE (Part 2)

P. J. Hoover answers more of my questions about her new YA e-book, SOLSTICE, which she e-published with the help of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Read Part 1 of this interview.) SOLSTICE blends teen romance with dystopian elements with Greek mythology.

Parker Peevyhouse: What about marketing–is that all up to you or will the agency help with that? We friended your book on Facebook, by the way. :)

P. J. Hoover: Thanks. I think they will do what they can to help market the book as far as advertising on their Facebook page, and Laura Rennert will be talking about it at a panel at BEA.

Parker:  I would guess it’ll get press just from the angle of “ABLA takes psuedo-publishing role.”

PJ: I hope so.

Parker: What specifically will you do to market SOLSTICE? You’ve got the book trailer, your blog, this interview…

PJ: I plan to really focus on the online. There is no book party at a store to plan, no postcards to mail. So I am going to focus on blog tours, twitter… I’m going to Dallas Comic Con. I made trading cards to hand out with secret content–each card has a special QR code.

Parker: Those weird boxes that you take pictures of with your phone?

PJ: Yes, with a barcode scanner app. It takes you to a hidden website link with maybe a secret vlog or a deleted scene or a chapter from another character’s POV. That sort of thing.

Parker: So I will get one of these cards, when?

PJ: I’ll mail you some! Teens are totally savvy about these things. I handed out cards last Saturday at an event and had hits on my hidden links before I got home.

Parker: Wow. So your marketing will target teens, not gatekeepers like booksellers, librarians and teachers.

PJ: Librarians are definitely in the mix because you can loan out e-books.

Parker: How will sales of your e-book affect future sales of other projects to publishers?

PJ: I think with as much as the market is changing, my options are wide open. I also think, for my career, marketing is very important. I don’t think it’s enough for an author to e-publish a book and put it on Amazon and expect it to just take off. I really think author marketing is huge. HUGE.

Parker: Did author marketing work well for your EMERALD TABLET books [which were published by a small press, CBAY Books]? Is there a difference here?

PJ: There are a few differences. First, those books were middle grade. MG readers are not online, so online marketing is very hard. So much depends on librarians and bookstores. Also, the CBAY books are hardcover and priced at $16.95. Some parents are reluctant to spend that on a book for their kid. SOLSTICE is priced at $2.99. So now I have a book aimed at teen readers who are online and moms who are online. And it is less expensive than a cup of coffee.

Parker: Are you going to aim any marketing specifically at older women?

PJ: Yes, I would like to. It has enough romance in it that I think older readers will enjoy it, too. There are lots of blogs for teens that readers of YA love, and then there are writers, and romance blogs.

Parker: What’s your next project?

PJ: Well, I do plan to write a sequel to SOLSTICE, and I’m also working on another standalone YA but I’m not going to talk too much about it except to say that it’s the first thing I’ve written without mythology in it.

Parker: I ask because with Hocking and others it seems like the strategy is to get as many e-books out there at one time as possible to up visibility and keep the hype going. That’s not your strategy?

PJ: I would love to be able to write that fast, but I can’t. :) I do see the genius behind doing that, though. I may work on some short stories in the same world.

Parker: What if a publisher sweeps in and wants to publish the sequel(s)? Would you do that or stick with e-books? Is getting a contract with a “Big 6″ publisher your end goal?

PJ: For SOLSTICE?

Parker: For any book at all.

PJ: I certainly wouldn’t say I’m sticking with e-books forever and never traditionally publishing, but I’m not in the mindset that I have to be at a traditional publisher either. I think so much is changing that even in a year, it will look different.

Parker: So SOLSTICE is not a stepping stone?

PJ: No! It’s just an awesome way to get the book in the hands of readers.

Parker: Before the mythology/dystopia trend dies.

PJ: I think with dystopia we see so much of the same type of thing–the government is bad or the world is destroyed. But what I love about SOLSTICE is that it is a totally new take on the subject.

Parker: I happen to know what that take is and it is pretty cool :)

PJ: Thanks!

SOLSTICE is available now on Amazon and Smashwords, and will be available soon on Barnes&Noble.com.

Parker Peevyhouse

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Interview: P. J. Hoover Talks About E-Publishing SOLSTICE

With the explosion of chatter online about authors who make their careers by self-publishing e-books, I was eager to talk with former Spectacle contributor P. J. Hoover about her new YA novel SOLSTICE, which has just been e-published with the help of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. This is a new model for literary agencies who are interested in finding a place in the e-publishing process, and P. J. explains here how that partnership worked in her case.

SOLSTICE is set in a future plauged by a Global Heating Crisis and is about a young woman who becomes entangled in a love triangle of Greek mythic proportions. It’s available now on Amazon and Smashwords, and will be available soon on Barnes&Noble.com.

Parker Peevyhouse:  It’s been a while since we’ve seen you here! Looks like a lot has been happening since then. Let’s hear about why you chose to self-publish. Why this book?

P. J. Hoover: This book is really timely for right now. It’s a mythology-based dystopian novel, and right now both of those elements are hot. I think the tipping point was really looking at the market and seeing the books that were coming out and knowing that even if we did sell to a traditional press it could take over a year to come out. Like even into 2013.

Parker: Which means you might miss the trend for dystopian or mythology-based novels.

PJ: And also, given how exciting all the e-book news is these days, it seemed like a really fun thing to do.

Parker: Had you previously submitted the manuscript to publishers?

PJ: My agent [Laura Rennert] and I had subbed a very different version earlier (about a year ago) with minimal dystopian elements. We got close to selling but never found the right fit.

Parker: How did you talk to your agent about self-pubbing?

PJ: I didn’t. I had a phone call scheduled with her to talk about what our submission strategy would be. We talked about that a bit and then she said, “Well, there is another option.” And she suggested the self-publishing route.

Parker: Was this before or after Amanda Hocking’s success with self-publishing?

PJ: This was two months ago–so after her news went viral.

Parker: Had the agency ever suggested self-publishing to their other authors or was this a new view they were taking?

PJ: I’m not sure if they had suggested this to any of their other clients or not. But once I decided I wanted to go the indie pub route, they took the ball and ran with it. We did another round of edits. And then a copy edit, and two proofreading edits.

Parker: Is that more editing than an e-book usually gets? I guess it probably varies.

PJ: We did many rounds back and forth. My agent and her reader are some of the most gifted people I can imagine when it comes to editing.

Parker: Were you always cool with the suggestions?

PJ: There are definitely some things I stood against changing. For example, the character of Piper’s mom–I really had an idea of how I wanted her to be, and though it was mentioned a few times, I didn’t change her (too much). I think in some ways, they imagined a happier world in the world of gods, and I viewed the world of gods as a bit of a cruel and deceitful one.

Parker: The agency did a lot more than editing, though, right?

PJ: They chose the cover picture and found a cover designer. (The POD book should come out a while after the e-book.) So, the agency arranged for cover design and layout and editing, and they are getting their regular 15% of royalties.

Parker: Did you get to approve the cover? How much say did you have? You like to think e-pubbing gives you more control…

PJ: They sent me the cover photo, which I loved, and then they sent me the actual cover and really, it was so gorgeous, I never would have even thought to say anything should change. I was in love with it the second I saw it.

Parker: That worked out well!

PJ: It really did.

Parker: It is a really great cover!

PJ: Thanks!

On Tuesday, I’ll talk with P. J. about marketing and more…

Parker Peevyhouse

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Final Thoughts on Self-Publishing for Young Readers

Chris Eboch has covered the discussion on self-publishing pretty thoroughly, and Joni Sensel has added quite a bit to that, so I’ll close out our series with a few questions I think are most pertinent to a blog about fiction for young readers.

Admittedly, these questions encompass my doubts about self-publishing books for kids and teens. Chris and Joni already made some great arguments for why you might want to self-publish–I’m going to discuss why self-publishing for young readers might not be a great idea.

Will self-published books reach young readers?

Teens are using ereaders (and reading ebooks on other devices) more and more these days, and many adults are happy to read YA ebooks. But can self-published middle grade novels sell? Kids don’t tend to use ereaders, at least not at this point in time, and they’re not likely to browse online for books, which means they’re not going to order your POD book from your website. Kids find books the old-fashioned way–in a bookstore, in the library, at their friends’ houses. All places where self-published books aren’t likely to be. Maybe if a kid has already discovered a series and wants to get the next book but can only find it online, his parents will order for him. But I doubt that a very young reader is going to discover a self-published book otherwise.

Can literary YA ebooks sell as well as commercial YA ebooks do?

YA ebooks are doing well right now–a decent percentage of the Kindle top 100 is devoted to Amanda Hocking and Suzanne Collins (plus I Am Number Four and the self-published The Vampire Journals series). But take a look at the top 100 Kindle books for “children” (which is mainly devoted to YA, not MG–another fact in favor of my argument above) and you’ll find commercial fiction dominating the list (Rick Riordan, James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, P. C. Cast, Cassandra Clare, etc.). The only literary novels you’ll find as of this writing are The Giver, The Book Thief, and Animal Farm, none of which was written by a debut self-published writer.

Literary fiction usually finds success after receiving good reviews and awards, or after being ordered by libraries and schools. A self-published ebook isn’t going to be covered by major reviewers, isn’t eligible for many awards, and isn’t likely to be ordered by librarians and schools–at least not at this point in time. Which means a literary writer might not want to try to break into the market this way.

Can you be sure of the quality of your ebook as a whole?

Self-publishing your book means finding your own editor, copy-editor, cover artist, formatting expert, and marketing scheme. And it means you’ll be relying on your own taste to ensure these people are giving you the best service. A writer is not a graphic designer. A writer is not an editor. I don’t see how a writer can be the best judge of all the work that goes into readying a book for the market.

Even self-made millionaire Amanda Hocking admits that her readers often complain about how poorly her self-published ebooks were edited and says it’s hard to find a good editor for an ebook. That might seem like an argument for self-publishing–you can make millions even if your book is poorly edited! But it’s not. Because I don’t think you want your book to seem shoddy to your readers. And because any aspect of your book that seems shoddy to your readers is going to work against you. Hocking writes in a very popular genre. Her book covers are decently nice. And the prices are very, very low. If your ebook is poorly edited, badly formatted, and represented by a terrible cover image, you’ve got a lot working against your success. So until some really amazing freelance services become the go-to for writers looking to self-publish, I think it’s a mistake for writers to assume they can handle all aspects of publishing on their own.

A vision of the future

Most of my hang-ups with self-publishing books for young readers are attached to how the market looks right now. I’ll concede that the future could bring changes. Here’s a vision of a future in which self-publishing YA and MG books might make a lot of sense:

Ereaders are the norm. They’re cheap; they’re used at home and school and work; they’re easy for kids to use and synch up with all of their other electronic devices. Ebooks are cheap and easy to find. Libraries lend them out more often than they lend out paper books; schools use them for in-class reading; they come pre-loaded on disposable devices. It makes more sense to publish your novel as an ebook than as a paper book in this culture. So publishers have given way to freelance editors. These editors provide a top notch service, ensuring your book is ready for the market and either taking a flat fee or a percentage of royalties. Your editor can refer you to a graphic designer who can create a great image for your ebook, a marketing whiz who will help you spread the word about your ebook on the most pertinent websites, and any other proof-readers or formatters or bio-writers you need. If your ebook is good enough, it’s included on lists and websites that make it easier for readers to find quality reads. In a future like this, I can see how self-publishing could become the norm. Until then, I see a lot of exceptions to easy ebook success.

Parker Peevyhouse

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Knowing it’s “good enough”

Okay, one more post on self-publishing and I’ll stop. (I can’t speak for other Spec bloggers.)

I’ve been thinking about points raised by commenters in the last week that essentially get at this: how does an author know the work is “good enough” to self publish? How does an author know that her manuscript isn’t going to be just one more entry in the “aren’t they awful?” morass that represents the vast majority (still) of self-published books?

And why ARE so many self-published books bad, anyway? As someone pointed out, indie film-making and indie bands get respect; the indie publisher doesn’t. At least, not if only one person is involved.

And I think that’s the key. Even the smallest film requires a minor army of actors, camera folk, editors. Even an individual indie musician has a producer, a mixer, maybe a separate songwriter, and probably some audience members somewhere along the line who were encouraging — if not a full band with a vested interest in every member’s quality. True indie presses are usually the efforts of multiple people. But a lot of self-published books are written by one person, with input from maybe a spouse or at most a few other relatives, friends, or other people not in a position to be very objective and who are often as blinded by love as the author is blinded by authorial myopia.

To complicate matters, it really is so subjective. I’ve read a couple of books now by a small but acknowledged, mostly paperback publisher you’ve all heard of that made me think, “Really? Somebody really thought this was good enough to publish? Wow.” And I’ve heard an agent speak disparagingly about this publisher, too, for similar reasons. But obviously at least a handful of people there disagree with us both and were willing to put money behind their opinions.

Still, the more people involved, the more likely a consensus will be reached on marginal books. I think. And personally, I don’t think I’m any more objective about my own work than your average author, and I’m sure I’m less so than some.

So here’s a minor suggestion for authors to consider: If we think that one of the important roles of the publisher is to serve as third-party, objective discriminators who decide what’s really “worth” publishing and what isn’t, but we want to sometimes publish work without the benefit of a publisher, for whatever reason, there’s no reason on earth we can’t play that role for each other. Suppose authors formed in groups of five or six or 10 and agreed to vette each other’s work prior to (self) publication? Even tough critique groups may not pull their punches enough on the details of a critique — and this is a role that would probably be better served by a group of peers who are NOT as familiar with a work as crit partners become, anyway. But if it’s just an up or down decision, not actual feedback, it should be possible for groups to work out a system — with anonymous ballots or some interesting techie solution — where they could essentially say to each other, “you know, I don’t think this one is ready yet, ’cause you’re going to embarrass yourself — and us, too, by implication.” (The latter might be especially effective if the “Sanction Group” is identified on/in the books they give the thumb’s-up to.) Or, “yeah, go for it.” Or even rank it on a scale of 1 to 10 — 10 being “NY is crazy not to pick this up” and anything under, say, a 6 or 7 being a “no, don’t do it!”

That would be an interesting function for an SCBWI region to formulate, for instance. Or a longtime critique group with multiple published members. Or a writing school/class program. Or…?  I’ve talked a little with a couple of different people in the last few months about authors essentially forming publishing collectives along the same lines as we have marketing collectives (e.g., the Class of 2k7). This fits the same model, though it wouldn’t need to be quite as extensive in terms of scope.

Think something like that could work? Or would personal feelings, friendships, and other biases be impossible to set aside?

— Joni, who’s just thinking out loud now

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Full circle — or not — with self-publishing

As I get ready to follow Chris’s footsteps with my very first ebook, published by me and not one of my “traditional” publishers, I can look back to the first time I stood on Self-Publishers Row. Lots has changed. Other things haven’t.

Early in, early out

I first dove headlong into self-publishing more than ten years ago. This was early in the industry’s hey-day, before AuthorHouse or PublishAmerica or any of those other names we’ve learned to run screaming from, but after Dan Poynter was already on edition six or seven of his self-publishing “bible.” To make a long story short(er), I poured over a copy of that bible and won a substantial grant to create a small press. One of the two resulting books won a national award, both got attention in PW*, both had national bookstore distribution through IPG, and today, at least five years after one of them went out of print, I still have people regularly begging me to reprint it. Because I had a specific niche, lots of the required skills from my day-job, and a professional product (though I certainly would do some things differently now), I sold roughly the same number of each as I have my first “traditional” novel.

*Random side note: Not one of my four traditionally published novels has ever made PW, though they’ve been reviewed in all the other standard places. I can’t help but wonder if the PW folks later felt like I’d conned them and crossed my name off forever, but maybe that’s “writer blacklist paranoia” talking.

I learned an immense amount from that experience, which was by far and away its greatest value (a lot more than any monetary return. Marketing expenses add up fast, and I intentionally didn’t track how many hours of labor I spent because I sensed early on that the return would be pennies per hour, and it would have been too depressing to know.)

The most important thing I learned was that I didn’t really want to be a publisher. I’d rather write. I also wanted the third-party validation that traditional publishing bestows.

…and soon to be in again

But here I am again, and boy, how self-publishing has changed. I got in, and back out again, before the flood: before attitudes about it were quite so disparaging, before booksellers automatically said “no.” And while the sheer volume of self-published work only keeps growing, lately the disparagement is ebbing again, thanks to the small percentage of stand-out work that’s gone mainstream and to more traditionally published authors who are taking matters into their own hands. Their work is raising the quality average, at least perceptually. (I’m pretty sure there’s still plenty of dreck.)

What hasn’t changed for me is the answer to this question: Do I want to be a publisher? The answer’s still no. But I’ve become convinced that for some objectives, it’s the most logical route for an author to take. (And frankly, traditionally published authors without lead titles are now expected to do such a large percentage of the promotion, including sending around galleys and trying to finagle press coverage and events, that there’s less and less difference between the two roles anyhow.)

More good reasons all the time

I’ve taught workshops on the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing, and until recently, the best — and most honest — reason I ever heard to self-publish was this: an older woman told me she wanted to self-publish her book because doctors had given her less than six months to live, and she wanted to leave the book for her family. And we all know what would have happened if she’d tried the traditional route.

That was a few years ago. I still think there are bad reasons to self-publish, too, some of which Chris mentioned last week. I actually think my original reasons to self-publish ten years ago weren’t great, though it worked out to be very valuable for me anyhow. Nonetheless, and despite my ambivalence about becoming a publisher again, I think there are more valid reasons than ever… without invoking terminal diseases.

As also mentioned last week, for instance, I have the third book in a trilogy. I want closure on that trilogy, for myself and my readers, and I do have fans asking for it. The publisher (a collection of lovely, literary, art-driven people who must nonetheless function in a system whose only de facto goal is the bottom line) doesn’t even want to see it.  So I’m going to make a few copies available myself. Back in the day, I might have put them in a three-ring binder or emailed a PDF of the manuscript to a handful of people. Now I’m going to point them to an ebook and probably a POD book instead. I don’t expect to make a dime. That’s not why I’m doing it. I’m still actively writing and marketing other manuscripts the traditional way. But I think I know enough about all sides of the business now to make a book-by-book assessment of my goals for a book and my options for achieving them.

Goals, costs, benefits

For many authors, ebooks make that cost/benefit assessment radically different from what it might have been just a few years ago, and it’s going to look yet different even, say, nine months or a year from now — the business, and more importantly the business models, are changing that fast. I spent some time with an outrider in the digital revolution last week, and I’ll post some relevant tidbits from those conversations and related research soon. Everything suggests that while traditional books won’t remotely vanish, for a growing number of books and authors, even the definition of “published” is changing, perhaps significantly, and whether “self” is still attached is losing meaning.

Redefining “published” — and self-published, too

If I make an ebook available of my out-of-print but traditionally published books, for instance, am I self-publishing? Or, since those underwent third-party editing and all the other “gatekeeper” functions, am I just offering another edition? What if I package my trilogy, two-thirds of which was “traditional,” as an “e-boxed set?” What if a nonfiction author published a first edition traditionally, got back the rights, and released the revised edition themselves? There are plenty of scenarios with even more blurry lines.

I do think that outspoken pro-self-publishing authors like J.A. Konrath sometimes minimize the fact that the reason they can sell a decent number of ebooks themselves is that a traditional publisher first played a significant role in delivering an audience and building their brands. And some categories — like adult romance — appear to be much better than others at delivering audiences from scratch based on reader demographics and habits. Based on the data I’ve seen, I think books for young readers might be quite a bit more challenging, at least for a few years.

But I’m headed back into self-publishing with an advantage I did not have the first time — which is knowing that the most important thing I get out of it will be what I learn for the future.

What goals might entice you to do it yourself? Would you try it just for the experience?

— Joni, who is still half-considering that three-ring binder idea

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Earning Money from Self-Publishing

So far this week I’ve covered why people might want to self publish (and when they shouldn’t), and I’ve offered a step-by-step guide to the process. One big question remains—how can you turn a self-published book into a success story?

Since I just released my books, I can’t claim success yet. If you want to follow along with my story, I’ll be reporting updates on my personal blog on Wednesdays.

In the meantime, I can tell you my plan. First though, some comments from experts:

On the Behler Blog, Lynn Price acknowledges changes to the industry, but offers a warning to self-publishers: “The big advance money is drying up and the big guys aren’t buying the kinds of books they did years ago.… [However] It’s one thing to heed the call to the battle cry and chant ‘death to publishers!’ and quite another to actually go out and do it. And be successful.”

Self-pub superstar Amanda Hocking adds her own warning: “Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren’t all that different, and I don’t think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren’t. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it’s harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.”

On the other side, Joe Konrath writes adult mysteries. He started in traditional publishing but has become totally gung ho about self-publishing. He sees no reason why anyone would want a traditional publishing contract today. On the other hand, he fully admits that success takes a big dose of luck. He often features guest authors sharing their success stories. These are primarily adult genre authors, but it’s still interesting to see what people do—and often how little difference a big publicity plan makes.

Along with luck, Joe says you need a well-written book, a great cover, a strong blurb describing it, and a good price point. He considers the e-book ideal $2.99, the lowest price at which you can get Amazon’s 70 percent royalty rate (it drops to 30 percent for cheaper books). You can judge my covers for yourself and check out the description and sample chapters of the writing at my Amazon page. Now let’s run some numbers to figure out that price point.

The Eyes of Pharaoh coverI can price my work as a $2.99 e-book and make $2 per book with Kindle’s 70 percent royalty rate. My traditionally published books are available on the Kindle, but at $5.99 for each of the Haunted series (the paperback price) and $8.80 for The Well of Sacrifice (hardcover price $16). I don’t get many sales that way, but many people complain that e-books are overpriced. (For an explanation of why, check out this post by former agent Nathan Bransford.) With The Eyes of Pharaoh and Rattled, people may be more likely to try the lower-priced books.

POD copies will be priced higher, because of printing costs. I can price Rattled at $7.99 which earns me $.92 for regular sales through Amazon. I can order copies myself for $3.87 to sell directly. The Eyes of Pharaoh is priced a dollar cheaper but actually earns me a little more, because it’s 160 pages versus 260.

Rattled will most likely sell far better as an e-book than in print, because the target audience for romantic suspense, 20-50-year-old women, are big e-book buyers. When I told my agent I had decided to self-publish Rattled, which he’d recently read and been excited about, he said, “Chris—I’m totally with you, and support you on this. Romance writers are doing SO well with e-self, I think you should.” (No, he won’t make money off of me this way now—but he could still negotiate foreign and film rights, should those arise.)

The Eyes of Pharaoh may sell better in print. We’ll have to see. Anyway, I should be making $1-$2 per book, and the books are reasonably priced.

So how to sell them? I have an advantage over new authors in that I already have somewhat of a reputation. I’m certainly not famous, but I do have fans. The main trick is getting the word out about the new work. Fortunately, I already have a wide social network. I’ve been a regional adviser for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for eight years and have many friends among the regional advisors across the world and internationally. I have several hundred Facebook friends, two thirds of them children’s book writers or illustrators. I post occasionally on Verla Kay’s Blue Boards, I have a presence on Jacket Flap, Good Reads, and Library Thing. I recently joined a listserv for mystery fans and already got invited to do a guest blog post.

I also have a presence as a speaker/teacher. Next week, I’ll be on a panel and giving a solo talk at the Left Coast Crime convention for mystery writers and fans. I’ll also be hosting a table at the banquet, and I’m planning to give copies of my books to people at my table, with a request that they write a review on Amazon or other sites if they like the book. In April I’ll be speaking at a schmooze meeting and at a conference in Albuquerque, and at a workshop in El Paso. I’ll be teaching at the big SCBWI summer conference in LA next August.

I’ll also follow my usual habit of sending out press releases. Because I live in a small town, I usually get local coverage. I’ve even gotten covered by the paper in Juneau, Alaska, where I went to high school—though I haven’t lived there for more than 20 years (small towns are hungry for news). I send announcements to my two alumni magazines. I often write articles on writing and discuss my work when it’s appropriate as an example of a topic. Some of these articles I offer for free for the publicity.

I’m not trying to make myself sound like somebody special; this is just a realistic look at how a professional writer handles her career. If you have no social network and no time to build one, your book may sit there quietly doing nothing. I can’t make people like my book. I can ask my many writing friends—some of whom owe me favors because I’ve helped publicize their books on my blog or in the articles I write—to post reviews of my new books, mention them on their blogs, or whatever. Social networking doesn’t offer the key to the universe, but it can help get your book off to a good start. Once you have lots of strong reviews, the book may take off on its own. I believe both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have programs to help promote books that have great reviews but poor sales.

Joe Konrath (mentioned above) also insists that to increase sales, you want to take up as much shelf space as possible. In other words, if you have a dozen books available, you’ll sell more—not just because one person may buy all of your books, but because they have more ways to find you. Different people will find different books appealing, but once they’ve tried your work, they may explore farther. Sounds reasonable to me, so I’ll work to get some more romantic suspense published. (A note: I chose to publish my adult work under a different name. The downside is that I have no name recognition for Kris Bock. However, since the adult work would probably be rated PG-13 if it were a movie, I want to separate it from my children’s books.)

The Rattled Cover

I expect sales to start slowly, but hopefully rise steadily. In six months I should have a good idea of whether or not this is working, though it may take several years for sales to build. Here’s a nice success story from author Elizabeth C. Mock: “Less than a year ago, I published my debut novel (the first in a trilogy) and last month I breached 100,000 downloads/sales.” She also notes, “People want good stories and if a story resonates with people, then it will sell regardless of its origins in traditional publishing or self-publishing. If a story isn’t good, it won’t sell.”

In conclusion… I don’t really have a conclusion. I decided to try self-publishing because it fits my needs and my goals—and my abilities—right now. You’ll have to decide if and when it might be right for you. I hope I’ve given some ideas.

Can’t get enough of the topic? Next week, other members of The Spectacle will weigh in. Leave any questions you have on the topic and I’ll try to answer them the following week. As I mentioned, I’ll be posting weekly updates on my self-publishing journey on my personal blog every Wednesday, including specific challenges and solutions. Stop by or become a follower, if you want more insight into how this works out. Or if you decide to try self-publishing for yourself, let me know how it goes.

Chris Eboch with the Haunted series

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Eboch still loves her traditionally published Haunted series and looks forward to releasing book 4 on her own, since the publisher doesn’t want it (silly publisher).

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How to Self-Publish Well

I’ve spent the last two days talking about what self-publishing is, plus who might want to self-publish and why. That leaves us with when, where, and how.

For me the answer to when is now. This week, in fact. If you have an appropriate project, why wait? To give you an idea of how long it takes, I started in February and I now have The Eyes of Pharaoh available as an e-book and print on demand. My second self-published novel, an adult romantic suspense called Rattled (written under the name Kris Bock), is going up now and should be available for sale next week. (The books were written and edited before February, of course.)

Wait a minute—traditional publishers typically take at least two years to release a book. How can self-publishing be so much faster and still be any good?

For one thing, publishers have to place your book in a queue of other books. They’ll add lots of extra time at every stage, in case someone misses a deadline. They may need to wait for an illustrator to become available. They have to wait for monthly meetings. They want to get the book into their catalog and send out copies for review in advance. All that takes time (though not always as much time as they use, as proven by hot topics rushed into print in a few months).

To self-publish my books, I needed a few weeks to research what I needed to do, get the manuscripts proofread, and contract for cover art. It’s not hard to set up an account on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. and start publishing. Then it takes one or two days to get the e-book version available and a couple of weeks for print on demand if you want to review a proof copy first.

The Rattled Cover

Let me break down the steps.

I’ll be fairly detailed here, to give you a good idea of the work required.

Write and edit a book. Get feedback to make sure it’s good. This is obviously the hardest and most time-consuming part of the equation. That’s always true, even with traditional publishing, but here you’re putting the work out without an agent or publishing house editor’s guidance, so take extra time to get feedback. Don’t count on family and friends, or even a beloved critique group (unless you have several critique partners who are published writers and skilled editors/teachers). You may want to hire a professional editor. Many of the best editors lost their jobs in the last two years, and some of them now offer freelance editorial services. You’ll also find many of us among the professional writing community who will critique or edit your work for a fee.

Write any front matter: title page, dedication, acknowledgments, “other books by,” “this is a work of fiction” statement, etc. (You can follow the format in other books).

Write any author’s note for the end of the book. You may also want a bio at the back of the book. Include all this front matter and back matter in your document.

Make sure you don’t have two spaces between sentences, spaces at the start of paragraphs, etc. Make sure everything is formatted the same, e.g. all quotes are smart quotes, dashes are em dashes with no space around them, ellipses are spaced consistently and so forth. Word’s “Find and Replace” function is a life-saver here.

Hire a professional copy editor and approve/reject their suggestions.  Prices for a professional copy editor tend to be about .015 cents per word, so $500-$1000 for your average middle grade or YA novel. Don’t skimp here, though, or you risk publishing a book that looks unprofessional, which is worse than no book at all. Make sure you hire a professional who follows a specific style sheet, not just someone who’s “good with English.” (I saved money by trading a manuscript critique for proofreading at this stage.)

Hire an illustrator. Prices for cover design can start as low as $200 if you use stock photography. Photographic covers are common in young adult novels and suitable for some contemporary middle grade novels. If you’ll need an original illustration, expect to pay about $500. Most print-on-demand publishers and independent printers will offer cover design services, but you may be better off going through your local SCBWI branch or posting a request for illustrators on the SCBWI discussion boards.

Cover art is more of a challenge for speculative fiction writers, because it’s hard to find stock photography that appropriately captures a fantasy or science fiction world. Paranormal authors might get away with a photo of a spooky setting or a ghostly image created with a transparent layer, but for most speculative work you’ll need an original illustration. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re getting a fabulous, appropriate cover, because it’s one of your most important sales tools.  Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest has 10 tips for effective book covers (mostly what to avoid).

You can save money by hiring an illustrator who is trying to break into the industry, or who isn’t getting enough work right now, but make sure you get a professional. Don’t skimp and wind up with something cheesy. You also need someone who can get the specifications right and provide the correct digital formats. Make sure you understand whether you are getting only cover art, or complete cover design with title and (for print on demand) spine and back of book. Keep in mind that not all illustrators have experience with book design (the font and placement of the title and author name, the information and layout on the back, and so forth). Make sure you also both agree on how many revisions the illustrator is willing to make.

I hired Lois Bradley for the covers of my first two self-published books. She’s a published illustrator starting her career, and as a bonus is also a graphic designer. We worked together on the cover art, trading ideas. Because I have a background in art and my husband is a graphic designer, I felt comfortable working without a separate The Eyes of Pharaoh version 2professional book designer. We did market research on Facebook by posting variations on title placement and so forth and eliciting feedback from my Friends, many of them authors and illustrators. Since these were Lois’s first book cover jobs, we negotiatedThe Eyes of Pharaoh version 1 an excellent “friends” rate and she’s taking some of the payment in trade.


 

The Inside: E-books

The Eyes of Pharaoh version 3

Cover in progress: note the different placement of the title/eyes.

Save a copy of the manuscript to use with e-books. These take minimal formatting—you don’t even choose the font style or size because people have their own preferred settings on their readers. Include section breaks between chapters, but no page breaks within chapters because the text will flow differently on different devices. Use a basic font like Times New Roman or Courier and avoid any unusual formatting other than italics and bold. You can include interior B&W illustrations. Amazon’s Kindle site offers more specific guidelines.

You can upload the document to Kindle as a Word .doc file (not .docx), but they recommend translating it into an ePub document. You’ll want the ePub anyway for other sites. This online program will convert the document to an ePub file.  Check to make sure it properly formatted italics, bold and so forth. It worked perfectly for me. Although it seemed to remove all blank lines and centering, the Kindle translation added them back in. If you want special formatting, you can do that with html (which I’m not going into here).

You can now set up accounts and upload your ePub document on Amazon’s Kindle site, Barnes & Nobles’ PubIt! site for the Nook, and/or other sites. Some sites such as Smashwords publish your book in multiple e-book formats, including Kindle and Nook, taking a small percentage. For maximum exposure, you may want to use all these sites. Most authors currently do best with Kindle sales, but some have better Nook sales, and Kindle might not always dominate the market.

You only need a front cover for e-books. The various sites will ask you for information such as a description of the book, author, illustrator, age group, genre, tag words, and so forth. Once you hit publish, the electronic version should go live in a couple of days. You can make changes to the document at any time in the future. You can also play with your description, price, and even cover art to see what sells best.

Print on Demand

The formatting is more challenging with print on demand. You’ll choose every aspect of how it looks. To do it yourself, you’ll have to understand font size and style considerations, when and how to adjust the page size, margins, leading, and kerning, and how to get rid of widows, orphans, and rivers. Layout can be easier with a design program, but it is possible with Microsoft Word. If you want to upload your own print-ready interior PDF, CreateSpace has detailed info.  CreateSpace also offers Professional Manuscript Layout Starting at $299, and I’m sure you can find other options.

Walton Mendelson is kindly offering a free download of his 98-page Build Your Book instruction guide, targeted specifically at CreateSpace users using Word to do layout, which covers basic book design, typography, basic how-to on scanning and shooting art, and more. The amount of info is a little overwhelming but you could do your own design with this help. Mr. Mendelson apparently also offers design services.

When you’re finished with layout, save a copy as a PDF—make sure you have chosen “standard” format. Doublecheck that all your formatting came through, such as italics and spacing. Now you are ready to upload your document. CreateSpace leads you through the process step-by-step, asking for information such as title, subtitle, and description to be used on the webpage. Your cover must be a single PDF that includes the back cover, spine, and front cover as one image, with at least .125” bleed. CreateSpace offers guidelines for determining your spine width based on your page count. (I’m not specifically promoting CreateSpace; it’s just the one I used so I know it best.)

CreateSpace will assign a free ISBN, which works with all distribution channels and lists CreateSpace as the publisher. You can also supply your own ISBN, or you can pay $10 to use their ISBN and list your own “imprint” name.

With POD, you can make changes after your final review, but you will have to pull the book off the site for a week or so.

Phew! Sounds pretty complicated when you list it all together. Aspects are definitely tricky—for me, learning to use Word as a layout tool provided several days of frustration—but certainly not impossible. You can find help online, in more detail than I’ve given here, and it’s fascinating to learn about all aspects of publishing. Just don’t expect to rush too much. Take the steps one at a time and give yourself a month or so to get through them.

If you have some money to spend and only plan to self-publish one book, you may want to simply hire services from the publisher. If you think self-publishing might be an option for a number of your books, it’s worth taking the time up front to learn the system yourself, especially if you’re tech savvy and/or have graphic design experience. (If you’re releasing an out-of-print book, and you can get a copy of the layout and permission to use the cover art/design, the process should be easy.)

Tomorrow: earning money from self-publishing.

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First-Timers and Self-Publishing

Yesterday I explored why previously published authors might turn to self-publishing, when they’re confident in their book’s quality but are struggling in the current market. What about the unpublished writer?

I would hesitate to recommend self-publishing to most unpublished writers, because most writers are not as far along on their craft as they think they are. I’ve done well over 1000 manuscript critiques, between teaching through the Institute of Children’s Literature correspondence school, offering one-on-one critiques at conferences, working privately with writers, and exchanging manuscripts with friends. Perhaps 20 percent of those had a chance of reaching publishable quality with one or two more solid revisions and some polishing. No more than one percent were ready to send out when I saw them. Some writers realized this; many didn’t.

Author Kristen Lamb offers this warning to writers who may want to publish too quickly: “I am not against self-publishing and that is a whole other subject entirely. But, what I will say is that there are too many authors who dismiss why agents are rejecting them and run off to self-publish instead of fixing why their manuscript was rejected.”

One theory suggests that we go through four stages to become experts: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence (got all that?) The first and third stages are the danger zones. Many writers start out thinking that writing is easy. Maybe they always did well in English classes. Maybe their kids love the bedtime stories they make up. These writers don’t know how little they know. When they start to glimpse the long, hard path of publishing, some give up altogether, and some look for easier ways out—possibly leading them to self-publish that early work. (Some even assume that their work is so brilliant it’s worth tons of money, and they don’t want to share with a publisher.)

In the second stage, writers start to figure out how little they know. They work on their craft. By the third stage, they have learned many techniques and they use them, but because the knowledge isn’t completely natural yet, it’s hard to keep track of everything and make it all work together. These are good writers, but not great ones. This is where you start to get “good rejections” and other encouragement, but that first sale seems elusive. Or maybe you even sell a few things, but you’re getting mixed feedback on other work. This stage can last years, and it seems to last forever. Here’s where some writers turn to self-publishing out of frustration. But it’s important to keep working on your craft and not get caught up in the publishing business before your work is ready.

You want to wait for that final stage, unconscious competence—though that term may be misleading, because I’d argue that for writers we still have to critically analyze our work. The main difference at the final stage is you’ve gotten good at finding the flaws in your own work and understand how to fix problems that other people see. You’ve gone from “potential” to “polished.”

So unpublished authors shouldn’t rush to self-publishing as an easy shortcut. Self-publishing your work before it’s ready can only hurt your career. However, if a writer is willing to pay for a professional critique—probably several, one after each major revision to check progress—and hire other experts as needed, they may be able to make it work.

My friend and former student Jodi Stewart is self-publishing a middle grade novel, Silki: Summer of the Ancient. I’ve critiqued her manuscript (twice) so I know it’s good, but her story about a Navajo girl having adventures on the reservation didn’t resonate with New York City editors.

Jodi has studied every aspect of self-publishing and she’s hired experts at Mill City Press to get the book in print. It’s too early to see what success she’ll have, but she says, “I feel re-energized. Frankly, I was sogging down with all the seminars, books, magazines, articles on line, blogs, blah blah blah on how to get published and pick up an amazing agent in the process. I was beginning to feel like a $$-sign, instead of a serious writer. I never really wanted fame with my novel-writing, just something to show for all my hard work.”

So here’s a first time writer turning to self-publishing and getting what she wanted. Note that what she wants is reasonable. It’s important to start with realistic expectations. Huge success won’t come to everyone (or even most people) who attempts self-publishing. Still, it can be a way for good work to find an audience, and it can even lead to wonderful surprises. Here’s one story from an author whose self-publishing success attracted an agent and then a publisher: “The self-published versions of my book were taken offline to prepare for the very aggressive marketing of my new publisher, Sterling, and in less than six months the new version of my debut novel, Tiger’s Curse, was headed to bookstores all over the country.”

I think some self-published authors do well because the majority of readers have different standards than editors do. I have often heard editors say that they will stop reading a manuscript if they find even a couple of typos in the first few pages. It’s sometimes explained as “If you don’t care enough about your manuscript to proofread it, why should I care enough to read it?” (One writer I know calls this “spelling as a moral issue.”)

Yet many people simply don’t have top-notch English skills, or suffer from conditions like dyslexia that make it nearly impossible to proofread one’s own work. Those people could still be excellent storytellers. I haven’t read Amanda Hocking’s work, but I wonder if this is the case with her. She mentioned in her blog that some readers criticized her books for errors (she has since hired editors and cleaned up those early books), but many readers embraced her from the start. Perhaps those readers didn’t notice the errors or were willing to overlook them for a good story, while editors couldn’t get past them.

Of course, you could hire a proofreader to clean up your work before you submit to a traditional publisher. But editors have many similar concerns, regarding “voice,” genre, target age/length of book, and other considerations that make sense to them but many readers hardly notice. For example, it’s nearly impossible to sell a novella to a traditional publisher, but readers are willing to buy them as e-books.

So to review the question—who should self-publish? If your primary target is schools and libraries, you may want a traditional publisher so they can get your books reviewed in appropriate journals, and for the distribution network. If you’re not yet published and haven’t even gotten “good rejections,” you may not be ready to share your work with the world. Published authors who are happy with their publisher and feel like their books are well supported may see no need to change things. But for authors who have been orphaned by their editors or abandoned by their publishers, who write books in genres that are not considered marketable, or who just want to more control over their careers, self-publishing is offering new opportunities.

Tomorrow I’ll go over the specific steps to self-publish a book as e-book and POD.

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Why Self-Publish?

Yesterday I introduced some of the new possibilities in self-publishing, primarily e-book and print on demand. But why would anyone choose to self-publishing a great book? Isn’t it better to try for a traditional publishing deal? Assuming you can get that traditional publishing deal in a timely manner… maybe.

Self-publishing is a gamble. Many people talk about the greater money that can be made through self-publishing. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. You can make more per book, but you still have to sell a large number of books in order to make more money than you’d get with a decent advance. Plus, there’s always the temptation of taking money now (an advance!) versus waiting for possible money later as a book takes maybe a year or two to find its audience with self-publishing.

Traditional publishing is a gamble as well, but once you have that traditional publisher’s advance, you get to keep it even if the book doesn’t sell. With self-publishing, you have no guarantee that your book will ever sell and you don’t get money unless it does. So it’s no wonder that many authors who are selling their books and getting decent advances would rather stick with the traditional publishing system.

Money Can’t Buy Happiness

But money isn’t the only consideration. Sure, I’d like to make more money from each published book, but that’s not my primary motive for self-publishing. My first concern is the amount of time it takes for editors to respond to submissions—often six months to a year or more even with an agent or when I know the editor personally. And that’s just to get any response, even a “No.”

I can’t run my business this way. It takes too long to get answers, too long to get a contract, and way too long to get the book in print. When the rest of our world is speeding up, publishing seems to be slowing down. I have one friend whose editor has taken five years on her book, with up to a year for each revision letter.

With self-publishing, you can have your book available in a few weeks or months (depending on how much time you devote). This is especially an advantage if you have a timely book—one that fits current trends or relates to something in the news.

You may not get an advance up front, but you start earning money immediately. Amazon pays monthly for the previous month’s sales—compared to royalty statements every six months. Getting paid sooner means you can afford to spend time working on the next book. Check out Joe Konrath’s blog post on Time Is Money for a comparison of the math: “Every day your book isn’t being sold, is a day lost that you could have been earning money.”

The ability to control when your book is published, and to publish as many books a year as you want (and can write) are factors drawing some people to self-publishing.

Opportunities In Special Cases

I know plenty of authors who love their editors and are happy with their publishing situation. I know at least as many who have suffered from career-damaging setbacks. One of these challenges probably hits speculative fiction writers more than most: The canceled series.

The Spectacle’s own Joni Sensel has faced this. If you loved The Farwalker’s Quest and its sequel, The Timekeeper’s Moon, you may be waiting for the third book in the trilogy. Problem is, the publisher isn’t going to publish it.

Joni has finished writing the book. She has a fan base. And now she has a way to publish it herself. She may or may not have great sales and make tons of money—but at least she will be able to share her work with interested readers. (Joni will weigh in on the subject with her own post next week.)

I’m facing a similar situation with my Haunted series. I was part way through writing book 4 when my editor got fired in part of the great cleansing of children’s book publishing after the economic downturn. After that, the publisher provided no support for the series and sales have been “okay but not great.” When I said I was considering self-publishing the fourth book, they cheerfully gave me the go-ahead. Maybe it can’t sell enough copies to please their accountants, but since I had a nearly finished manuscript and a built-in audience, why not put it out there myself?

Chris Eboch with the Haunted series

Chris Eboch with the Haunted series

Fantasy and science fiction writers are more likely to conceive books in trilogies or longer series. That means they’re more likely to run into these kinds of problems. It’s next to impossible to find a publisher who wants to take on a series that started someplace else, but now the series doesn’t have to die.

Old books can take on a new life as well. Author Laura Ruby is publishing her out-of-print title Lily’s Ghost as an e-book. She notes in this blog post that experimenting with out-of-print titles is a safe and easy way to explore the possibilities. After all, you’re not choosing between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Plus, you know the book has already been vetted by the experts.

It’s (Not) All about the Market

The children’s book market has also gotten more narrowly focused than ever in the last couple of years. Like movie studios aiming for the summer blockbuster, many publishers only seem interested in trendy, flashy books. This isn’t entirely new, but it’s gotten worse. Several years ago I wrote a mystery set in ancient Egypt. I’ve been told repeatedly that editors like the book but won’t buy it, either because they already have a book set in ancient Egypt, or because historical fiction doesn’t sell well enough.

Yet kids love Egypt and several teachers have told me they wish they could get my book for their classroom. The superintendent of a New Jersey school district asked if I would consider self-publishing the book if they would buy out the first print run of 5000 copies. (That fell through due to restrictions on how the schools could buy books and then budget cuts after the economy tanked, but it shows that the market for Egypt books is not saturated.)

The book is written. I’ve had enough feedback to know it’s a good book. Why wouldn’t I self-publish it and see what happens?

I do know writers who are selling new books, even first novels, so the market isn’t completely closed. Yet attend any writing conference and you’ll hear what’s hot and what’s simply not. Quality is not enough for a traditional publisher (especially the big ones). Market considerations have to play a major role in their decisions about publishing books. They have a lot of overhead and often “bottom line” pressure from a parent company and/or investors. A major publisher may need to sell 20,000 copies to break even and 50,000 to consider the book a success.

But my definition of success may be different. Say I self-publish The Eyes of Pharaoh. Because I traded for proofreading and cover art, and did the layout myself, my upfront costs are next to nothing (except time, and that’s a small percentage of the time I’d already spent writing the book). Maybe I only sell 50 copies to family and friends. At least I’ve learned new skills and shared my work with a few more people. And who knows, the book can be for sale eternally on Amazon and it might take off someday.

But what if I sell 1000 copies? That doesn’t seem unrealistic, considering that I’m already somewhat known in children’s literature. Fans of my traditionally published historical fiction, The Well of Sacrifice, may be happy to see the Egypt book. I can promote the book when I speak at conferences. I have a strong social network of children’s book writers. And people do love ancient Egypt!

The Eyes of Pharaoh cover

I’ll make roughly $1.50 profit for the print on demand version (priced at $6.99) and $2 for the e-book version (priced at $2.99). At 1000 copies, I’ll have more than paid back the time I spent turning it into an e-book. Plus, I get the satisfaction of having readers.

And if the book takes off, if schools pick it up for the classroom, if it reaches the tipping point and gets noticed…. Well, I’ll be very happy. I may even get courted by a traditional publisher, but they’ll have to deal with me on my terms.

So self-publishing can also be an option for professional authors who have an “unmarketable” book. Maybe you have a trendy book but you’re afraid the trend will die out before a publisher could get your book to print, or publishers have grown tired of the trend before readers have, or you’re writing in a genre that’s not currently popular, or that only appeals to a small market segment. Self-publishing can help you reach a pool of readers that might be too small or uncertain to interest a traditional publisher.

Tomorrow: What about self-publishing for first-time authors?

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Exploring the World of Self-Publishing

If you’re paying attention to news from the writing world, you’ve probably heard self-publishing success stories, along with plenty of debate. Is self-publishing still the ghetto of publishing, filled with people who can’t write? A valid option for new writers who haven’t found a place in traditional publishing? The only sensible way for any writer to publish her book in the current market? A shortcut to fame and fortune?

And finally, while many writers still hold up traditional publishing as the Holy Grail, a growing number are quietly asking, “Could this be right for me?”

I’ve been writing for many years and have published hundreds of articles, several short stories, and 12 books, including historical fiction, contemporary paranormal, fictionalized biographies, and both fiction and nonfiction work for hire. Two years ago I would have said you shouldn’t self-publish unless you either don’t care about selling more than a handful of books, or you have a great platform and like to market.

In recent months I’ve changed my mind.

I am diving into self-publishing with not one but two books, and more planned. Two factors play into this. First, the traditional publishing industry, which was never ideal, seems more troubled than ever and writers are suffering. Second, advances in technology make it possible to produce a quality book with a low upfront investment, and to reach readers without selling books from the back of a van.

This week, I’ll be exploring the world of self-publishing with daily posts, discussing my personal journey and quoting from the experts. While my initial self-publishing offerings are not speculative fiction, I’ll also note some special challenges of the genre.

Let’s start by defining some terms.

Self-publishing is a term that can be used in different ways, but my definition is quite simple—the author chooses when and how to bring his or her book to press and controls the process. This can involve e-books, print on demand, or hiring a printer to do a print run of a few thousand books. It may cost anywhere from nothing to thousands of dollars.

Until recently, if you wanted to self-publish, you essentially had to start your own company and pay at least $5000 to have boxes of books delivered to your door. Now we have more reasonable options.

Print on demand (POD) allows authors to have printed books available online. Some companies charge an upfront fee; others charge only for specific services such as cover design and proofreading. As one example, you can use Amazon’s CreateSpace to release a POD book. You upload your cover file and a PDF of the interior layout. You set the price (so long as it is above the cost of printing). You can buy copies at an author discount (under three dollars for my 160-page paperback). Amazon sells the book online and prints a copy when someone orders it. Their royalty calculator shows you how much you’ll make by offering the book for sale at various prices. I’m pricing The Eyes of Pharaoh at $6.99, which will give me over one dollar per book with standard Amazon sales.

The Eyes of Pharaoh cover

E-books are electronic versions of books which can be read on electronic devices such as computers, e-readers, smart phones, and iPods. You can make a book available on the Kindle through Amazon, or in other formats through Barnes & Noble and other companies. You do not need an e-reader to read an e-book. You can get e-reader apps for smartphones, iPods and computers.

Some people think e-books are a trend that will go away. Others think they are here to stay but will never be a major part of the market. Still others think e-books will eventually dominate—possibly in just a couple of years.

E-books have not taken over the market, but sales are growing. Adult genre novels have been especially successful. Crossover young adult titles have also created success stories, such as Amanda Hocking, who went from unpublished author to e-book millionaire with her paranormal romance books priced at $.99 to $2.99.

The market for middle grade e-books is uncertain, but casual market research shows that some middle grade students are getting e-readers, often passed down from their parents when the new version comes in. Plus, kids can read e-books on their iPods, phones, and computers. Many schools are moving toward getting all the kids an e-reader or laptop and providing textbooks in electronic form. As young people get ever more comfortable reading on an electronic device, e-book sales will rise.

Some other factors will come into play, especially with younger kids. They may not have their own disposable income, so books with parent appeal will do better. The market will probably favor cheap books, like the discounted print versions available at school book fairs. Chapter books with illustrations have some formatting issues because of the way pages flow on different devices. Until color readers become common, picture books may do better as apps than as true e-books.

A PW article tries to make some predictions:  “Though teens are only slowly switching to digital stories, they’re keeping an open mind. In the Kids and Family Reading Report national survey released last September, Scholastic and Harrison Group found that 57% of nine-to-17-year-olds said they were interested in reading an e-book, and a third said they would read more books for fun if they had access to digital titles on electronic devices. At the time of the survey, only 6% of parents owned an e-reader and 16% planned to buy one in the next year. More than eight in 10 parents said they do or would encourage their kids to use their e-reading device.”

Regardless of the challenges, I’m convinced e-books will be a major segment of middle grade and young adult publishing within a couple of years, and I think it’s better to get in ahead of the curve than behind.

The Death of Publishing?

So the e-book market is growing, but what does this have to do with self-publishing? Well, e-books provide special opportunities to self-published authors, because you can set a low price to lure new readers and still make money. (The author gets 70 percent of the price for self-published Kindle books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.) Because the author keeps more of the list price, some authors are doing much better with self published e-books than with traditional publishing deals.

For the most part, publishers are doing business the way they did a century ago. Sure, they’re releasing books as e-books, but they are holding onto hardcover as the ideal. (Publishers make more money off of hardcover per copy, and they seem to resist the idea that a low-priced e-book may sell more copies, dropping the per unit cost and ultimately making more money.)

Publishers are also trying to hold authors at an unreasonably low royalty rate for e-books. The Authors Guild offers this warning about the e-book and traditional publishers: “Aauthors have long been able to take comfort in this: once the contract is signed, the interests of the author and the publisher are largely aligned. If the publisher works to maximize its revenues, it will necessarily work to maximize the author’s royalties…. Now, for the first time, publishers have strong incentives to work against the author’s interests.”

(For a discussion of e-book royalties, see E-Book Royalty Math: The House Always Wins and The E-Book Royalty Mess: An Interim Fix.)

Publishers are holding on to the old way of doing things because it’s difficult and expensive for a big company to change. Novelr says, “Publishers will die if they cannot change, but it doesn’t seem like they’re interested in change anytime soon. Why?

“The way forward for publishing appears to be clear, if people like MCM and Mark Barrett and Michael Stackpole are to be believed. Go online, stay digital, jettison your legacy printing systems, and build good digital filters for popular content. More importantly: create publishing brands readers can identify with—the same way readers now cluster around authors as brand names. But this has yet to happen…. Traditional publishers are a solution to a vanishing problem. They are becoming obsolete, but not quickly enough. And they refuse to change because they are attempting to preserve the problem to which they are a solution.”

I don’t expect traditional publishing to go away anytime soon. But in this changing climate, authors—even those who have successfully published with traditional publishers—have many new incentives for turning to self-publishing. Tomorrow, we’ll look at some specific reasons authors may choose to self-publish.

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