Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Changes, Changes

Hello, your local epublishing adherent here. Have you heard all the buz from the publishing world this week? About Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler? Everyone is talking about them, all over the place like here, here, here and here . I give them credit, it’s big news. But they are just the latest buzzwords, and the best examples of why anyone should publish whichever way is right for them.

All the talk about these guys has refreshed the equation wars between self epublishing and traditional publishing. Specifically everyone starts putting up long strings of equations about the money an author actually makes selling books in each method. Something I am really really tired of seeing repeatedly over the last couple of years now. All the ebook enthusiasts point to the same argument-defending pieces, all the traditionalists point to the “everything else” about why self epublishing is not the best thing to do. And it hasn’t changed over the last couple of years. Alright the only thing that changes is the examples when popular pricing models change, but they essentially say the same thing… That is, IF YOU CAN SELL A LOT OF BOOKS YOU WILL MAKE A LOT OF MONEY.

Hocking, a young self-made author has a huge fan base and has worked her fingers to the bone self publishing. Why was signing a contract with St. Martin’s the “right” choice for her? Because instead of her hiring the staff she needed to stay on top of her game, they paid her a 2 million dollar advance to do all the ground work for her, in her own words, “so she can be a writer.”

I’m happy to see that a young writer in this position has chosen to go with traditional publishing--to go with having a professional edit her work, and help her become the best writer she can be. I’m saying this not knowing how much she has invested in independent copy editors with her previous books. But I’m also saying this knowing that authors like Ann Rice thought they could do without editing and now publically expose some really shoddy prose.

Eisler has come a long way as a professional author, polishing his writing through years of working with editors and also has a huge fan base from previous success with publishing houses. He’s already doing the marketing and just wants to sell books for himself, and continue to have his publishers publish his other books. Wouldn’t I love to be in his position, without the huge mountain of marketing work I have waiting for me.

In the end, these two represent the polar opposite ends of the current publishing atmosphere. And show the best parts of it all. Looking at them you do not hear the story of the low sellers or even the midlisters, like Kiana Davenport, who may be the next biggest success story.

If you are lucky enough to land a good publishing contract, you will likely reach a larger audience than with self publishing. If you choose to go with self publication, you will make more per cover and maybe even push more copies but it will only spread as far as one person can push. In the short of it all, in order to become a successful writer, you need to market, market, market and network, network, network. Regardless of who has the rights, regardless of which side of the equation you are on, it will catch up with you eventually. Be smart, be aware of your options and don’t be afraid of change!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How much should you sell your ebook for?

As we scribists get closer to production time on our ebook anthology experiment, questions like this are plaguing us.

Unlike the big publishing houses, and physical-copy self publishers, we don't have to pay for the substantial existence of something: paper and warehousing/distribution. So we know we don't have to charge the $9.99 or so that you are still seeing out there. This item has been left out off most of the pro epub articles I've read lately.

We were thinking a little more like these guys. Another blog using J. A. Konrath as an ebook reference-his name is popping up everywhere-even here.

The message from the technium is clear. With the tipping point upon us, more and more people are going to sell ebooks at dirt cheap prices. I've seen some people cite the strategy to "sell" their ebooks free for about a month on the kindle store to make it on the top 100 list and then start charging for it once it has the visibility.

Many have pointed out that selling ebooks for dirt cheap isn't much better than contracting with a major publisher (keep in mind there wasn't nearly as much overhead) as far as royalties are concerned. But that's where sales and marketing strategies come in. The more we can sell a book for, the less this will matter. So lets say we charge a bit more for a book, but have a sale every once in a while. It still gives people a chance to get excited about a dirt cheap book, but lets us sell at a higher price the rest of the time. You all know you love it when you see a sale! I know I do.

But there are other reasons than padding sales strategies not to sell at dirt cheap. Even Amanda Hocking, who's sales have been outstanding, charges more than 99 cents.

First of all, it won't pay rent...

The other reasons are innumerable, but one technicality is that certain ebook outlets have limited price formats. The apple store, for instance requires ebook prices to end in .99. so you can either sell for $1.99, .99 or free. Not too many options there.

While there has been a lot of evidence supporting the "the cheaper the better" platform, I don't think it will be the wisest move for us. But we'll keep you posted about our pricing when we make that decision.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Link: A Dialog Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath

I just stumbled upon this post and it's a very interesting read. They talk about pretty much every aspect of today's publishing world - from self-publishing, to ebook pricing, to why Barry Eisler just turned down a $500,000 contract with a major publisher. Rather long post (even longer than what I usually post), but worth reading.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Celtx for Writing Novels

A few years ago I found an open source script writing program called Celtx. My brother and I wrote a screenplay using it, and I've used it to write the audio/visual scripts that later became the promo and tutorial movies for my games. There are several very cool features in Celtx like a built-in database for keeping track of character details, an index card view that makes reordering scenes easy, and an easy PDF export. I've always thought this program was almost perfect for novels. It just needed a little more attention.

Well, it just got that attention in the new version 2.9 that was released on February 8, 2011.

Up to now, I've been using almost ancient tools to write my stories (ancient in computer terms, not ancient as in 'abacus'). First I have the actual novel, written in OpenOffice.Org's Writer. Next I have a sort of ad hoc database, stored in a multi-page spreadsheet in OpenOffice.Org's Calc -- one sheet for a chapter list and summary, one for character details, and a third for keeping track of revision history. Finally, I had a simple text file for storing notes on future ideas that hadn't found their way into the novel yet.

I've always wanted a program just for writing - one program to rule them all, if you will. Celtx gave me that for writing screenplays, but fell short for writing novels. Now they have specific novel support, and things are much better. I spent some time over the past few days copying my unedited second novel into Celtx to see how it works.

The "Master Catalog" is still there, allowing me to easily keep track of information about my characters, locations, and anything else I can dream up. This works as well as it ever did, although some of the fields they provide just don't apply to me yet (I don't spend much time thinking about parking on Mars but I imagine it's better than at my current apartment). Having access to a place that lets me store more information than a spreadsheet and in a much more readable format is a boon. It even lets you import pictures, so if you have a favorite actor you envision as your character or some concept art you can add those to your character card for future reference.

Next is the "Novel" component. This is a simple text editor with some custom header areas. This is not as robust as Writer or Word, but it is more useful than notepad because of the way it's tied in. Fill in a chapter header and you instantly have an entry added to the Chapter List on the left side of the screen. This does two things very well: lets you easily add chapter entries and allows for easy reordering. The index card view works even better in that regard, since it gives you a nicer view of your chapters and lets you drag and drop them to change the order.

This is not to say the software is perfect, but it has come a long way toward being my one-stop shop for novel writing. What I feel is missing from Celtx is this:

  1. Word Count -- I keep track just to see where I'm at and what sort of progress I'm making. You can select text and right-click on it to see the word count. Effective, but hidden. I'd prefer to see the word count in the chapter list and have an overall total displayed somewhere as well.

  2. Scenes -- Having each chapter be an item in a list and an index card is great, but each chapter is not one scene. I usually have several scenes in a chapter and would love to have an interface to let me move those around and insert new scenes more easily.

  3. Export -- I want two methods of exporting. First, a fully formatted novel ready to send off to CreateSpace for printing (using my own custom template, if possible). Second, a fully formatted novel in DOC format ready for me to send to Smashwords.

Celtx has worked well for the few projects I've created with it. This novel writing component is a huge step toward making me want to use the program full time. It's missing a few things, but considering that this is the first official version to support novel writing at all, it's an exceptional effort. It's even motivated me enough to look into writing add-ons to get the additional functionality I want.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Very Good Example of Why eBooks Can be Your Friend

So I have this novel I wrote a while back. It still needs to be revised some (ok, a lot), before it is ready for the greater book-buying public.

I wrote the book, ok a high fantasy novel, as my Master's thesis, and then sat on it for two years. My writing has grown a lot and it's been tugging at the back of my mind a lot, so I guess I should ya know, get it taken care of so I can publish it. A book unsubmitted is a book that is not making me money.

That is one reason.

I could pitch it to an agent, wait for a publisher to buy it, wait two years to get it on the shelves.... Or I could just epub it.

That is my second reason for being so motivated lately.

eBooks are taking off in the current publishing market. And people like Amanda Hocking are proof that this is the way to do it. Go ahead and click on the link. Her story is amazing, and I envy her for it. "As of Tuesday, January 04, 2011 at 9 PM, I've sold over 185,000 books since April 15, 2010". This is just an example, if all goes well, of what I can do once I get my novel, and its sequels, finished and up on the net.

As much as I have wanted to "get published," it just doesn't make sense anymore.