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Publishing is a Series of Confusions to be Solved

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Trying to get your work published is a series of confusions, one leading to the next, each to be solved before moving on.

To be published by a large, traditional publisher, but not a small press, you need an agent. And besides it would be nice to have someone alongside, who knows the ropes. Writing is a solitary game otherwise. But how to get an agent, especially in this era of vampires and paranormals? I don’t read them or write them, but I am getting tired of reading about them, they’re that ubiquitous.

Also, how long must one wait? For an agent to say yes, for a publisher to say yes, for the book to appear? I suppose if you’re young and have another job, a year or two each is no big deal. But I had to ask myself, after losing a decade, how many more years was I willing to lose in this never-ending waiting game? When I was honest with myself, the answer: none.

And so once again into the self-publishing world I go. After the unhappy end with iUniverse and the little matter of no longer having the money, who to go with? And more importantly, should I publish print books or eBooks only? I decided eBooks only. But as is my way, my decision sat on unstable ground.

Next question: who to hire as an editor? I went with the smaller, less expensive outfit. More in another post on that choice. In contrast to trying to choose an editor, revising my novel once I’d received the edits was a relief. This was known territory. Still I worried: was it good enough? Had all the lost threads and inconsistencies, the grammar oops and verbos been found?

I needed a proofreader. But they are hard to find. Amazon CreateSpace doesn’t even provide that service. Instead they offer a round of basic copy editing. But editing and proofreading are physically done differently. In editing, you read like a normal person, left to right, down the page, seeing both content and grammar. In proofreading, you read backwards, from bottom to top of page, sentence by sentence. I start on the first page, but it wouldn’t surprise me if others start on the last page. Not distracted by content, you’re more likely to catch grammatical errors, misspellings, and typos that way. It’s also faster. As a result, the cost for proofreading should be much less than copy editing. So to pay for the latter when you want the former is a bit heavy on the wallet.

I finally did learn of a real book proofreader. But she was booked into the summer. And so I huffed and sighed and groaned and printed out my manuscript, slapped it down on my desk, pulled out my green pen, and began proofreading. I was astonished that though I hadn’t worked as a proofreader in *mumble* years, I went right into proofreading mode as if I had never stopped. I wish I could learn that well today — it really hit home how learning today never becomes ingrained in me like things did pre-injury.

At the same time as I was trying to find a proofreader, I had to contend with what to do with the cover. Do I hire a cover designer or do it myself? A good book cover designer has a special skillset of knowing what looks good in that format and will sell a print book. Yet covers for eBooks work differently than covers for paperbacks or hard covers, which just a perusal of cover thumbnails on kobo or Amazon will tell you as most are designed for print and copied unthinkingly to the eBook.

Unlike other authors, I actually have some design skills and a decent eye for what looks good. And so it wasn’t a case for me of, of course get a cover designer. Cost became the overriding decision-maker. My work is free to me.

And finally came the back cover copy, or in Smashwords parlance, the extended description. But writing back cover blurb is the work for marketers. Now some in the traditional publishers don’t read the book, which is why the back cover blurbs don’t match the story, but good ones do and know what will catch the eye of a reader. I do not. But free is me. And I had a brilliant idea: all those query letters I wrote and had rewritten, they would make a good base for the description. I had already written a logline. So I used that for the short description.

Still, once I had done the soft launch of my novel She and could see the book page, I was not happy with my initial effort. I found a how-to and tried again.

Then someone asked me when readers like her, who read only print books, would be able to read my novel. Sigh. I revisted my first decision, and I suddenly remembered that NaNoWriMo had offered a CreateSpace proof to winners. Could I use that? Well, no, not for this novel, but it did get me to read the website for winners and realise that if I once again, did it myself, I could get it into print for free. So once again, into the tedious brain-busting physically-draining world of formatting I go. And do I go into the formatting world of Word, for which CreateSpace has a template, or my traditional desktop publishing world of Corel Ventura? Formatting a manuscript for print is different than for an eBook or the Kindle, and Ventura does give you more control. I have yet to do the Kindle on Amazon itself (Smashwords converts to Kindle format but it isn’t available on Amazon); I am both procrastinating and waiting to ensure my soft-launch readers don’t find typos or formatting errors. Formatting for print will take a few days and by the time I’m done, assuming I make up my mind which software to use, I will (I hope!) know of any typos.

Essay

From Paper to Pixels

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This is from a talk I gave to my fraternity on their Career Day.

We are in an age of transition. Like those who went from calligraphy to the Gutenberg press, so we are going from pen and print books to tablet computers and ebooks.

Up until early last century, manuscripts were written by hand. Then typewriters came along, and writers mastered the two-finger peck. Soon word processors appeared and at about the same time personal computers.

Writers now had a choice of handwriting or typing their drafts on a typewriter or on a computer. But final drafts, the ones sent out as submissions or completed manuscripts to publishers, always had to be typed or printed from a computer.

That changed after the anthrax scare, particularly in the US. Agents and publishers began to demand queries via email only and manuscripts in MS Word DOC format, also via email. But in Canada, some agents and publishers prefer the old ways; perhaps they feel it’s more literary for writing to be on paper than in pixel form. They refuse emails; they want snail mail submissions only. That slow, expensive, tree-wasting method is on the way out though, especially as more and more of us writers refuse to participate and submit only to agents or publishers who accept queries and manuscripts by email.

The revising and editing process has undergone a change too. No longer do editors mark up printed copies with pencil or red pen. Instead they use tracking changes in MS Word and communicate with authors via email. Again, in Canada, some editors still work in the dark ages of print-outs. A few even think it’s not necessary to be on the Internet or have email. Seriously. And so a Canadian author has to pay attention to what specific publishers or agents want: paper or pixels.

But despite a few Canadian anachronisms, writers today must use a computer to write the final draft, however they write their first drafts.

Then last year Apple released the iPad, and things changed radically for writers again.

Up until the iPad, even with computers, writers jotted down ideas in notebooks, sketched out floor plans on paper with coloured pencils. Writers only had one copy of these things, and we panicked if they were lost. No more. The iPad allows us writers to outline, jot down ideas, sketch settings, as well as write our manuscript, all on one electronic medium.

The entire process can now be done on some form of computer. And everything can be saved and backed up to the cloud and shared with others or between our own computers.

Writers are no longer limited to physical media like the typewritten page or thumb drive.

The ability to save one’s work in the cloud means that a writer can work on a manuscript on any computer, tablet computer, or smartphone wherever we are, whenever the mood strikes or a free moment appears.

For those who like to revise on a printed copy, printing itself has undergone a change. With the advent of networked printers, one can print from anywhere on the planet to the printer at home.

In addition to all that, the traditional process of writing, revising, and editing has had a new step inserted: Beta Readers.

Beta readers love to read. They may be strangers or people in one’s writing club. They read our manuscripts and comment on anything from writing style to plot to characters to endings or mood, depending on what their strengths are as readers.

Beta Readers can often be found on social media. When we writers engage with people on Twitter and they begin to read our blogs as well and get to know our long-form writing style, they may well offer to read our manuscripts.

That is just one of the many benefits of social media. Twitter also has a thriving writer community, which holds regular writer chats. So in addition to the traditional associations like the Canadian Authors Association, which provides opportunities to meet fellow writers face-to-face in our own regions, Canadian writers can now talk with writers from all over the world in cyberspace.

After we receive feedback from our Beta Readers, we revise once more and then send out the manuscript to agents or small publishers. Or not. Publishing too has changed.

Traditionally, a book writer would seek out a publisher directly, for the publisher would handle all the chores except the writing. (The publisher choosing the title and front cover still bugs me. I cannot imagine why writers in times past gave up that control.) It was very difficult for a writer to self-publish as printing and distribution were expensive and not easy to arrange.

But that has changed. First, traditional large publishers — the big six — began accepting submissions from agents only. Only small or indie publishers accept submissions from authors directly today. An author still has to wait a week or 6 months to hear back though. Although most agents and small publishers have long since allowed simultaneous submissions, realising writers can’t waste half their lives watching the mailbox, the waiting time can still be excessive. I have already spent over a year trying to find an agent with a few nibbles but no bites.

Then the rise of print-on-demand shifted this balance of power towards the author. It has become more feasible financially for authors to self-publish and nix the long, long process of traditional publishing, although it is controversial to turn one’s back on the traditional way.

As a result, in the last decade, companies that support self-publishing authors sprang up. AuthorHouse is the big one today (I won’t use them — see my adventures with iUniverse). But there are others like Lulu and CreateSpace. They provide whatever service an author needs, from editing to printing, for a fee.

But it is the ebook that has truly exploded author emancipation.

The publishing world has been turned upside down in the last year. Ebooks cost virtually nothing (aside from the essential professional editing step) for the multi-competent writer to create.

Readers like their eReaders. Some tell me no one can pry them out of their hands. They also prefer ebooks under $6.99, maybe up to $9.99. Traditional publishers prefer to price their ebooks high — $12.99 is their low end — and release them after hard cover editions. Both readers and authors are unhappy with that.

This traditional-minded approach gives indie authors an edge. They can price their ebooks at a level readers are willing to pay and release them at the same time as the print books, thus allowing readers to buy their preferred format when the book first comes out. After all, books are written for readers. It’s not for us to tell them which format they should read first. It’s the content that’s paramount, not whether the words are printed on paper or shown in pixels.

Ebooks themselves are in transition as different companies support different formats. PubIt! by Barnes & Noble supports ePub, as does Smashwords, kobo, and Sony Reader. Amazon’s Kindle uses the mobi format. Luckily, it’s become easier to publish in all of them, thus covering eReaders from Kindle to Kobo.

Since traditional publishers support only best-selling authors fully, mid-list and small authors now have an alternative to being ignored: self-publish ebooks.

Regardless of which path an author takes, all authors, except best sellers, have to market their own work. And that’s the hardest job in writing.

But here again, the online revolution has made it easier than ever for an author. Social media is a must. Virtual book tours, book trailers on YouTube, pages on Amazon and Chapters are now possible.

A Facebook Page, Twitter, and an author website are the foundation upon which to build a marketing plan. The writer begins building this foundation while still outlining the book, and does not talk just shop online, but shows the whole of who they are. Readers like to know their authors (well, maybe not all, but followers become readers when they get to know the author as a person first, then become intrigued enough to find out about the author’s works).

The author’s Facebook Page — not Profile — shows their professional side, things like writing-related blog posts, book events, links to reviews, and so on.

Twitter is where the author converses on many different topics, showing off their various interests and connecting with other writers. It is also an excellent place to publicize one’s blog posts, books, poetry, etc. via links.

The author website will not be just for blogging but a place where people can find out about the author’s background and how to contact them (really important, contact info is), their writing, and where to buy their books or articles. It needs to be kept up to date, else people will think you, the author, have died and stopped writing.

One caveat to authors: Do not post your drafts or any part of your book online. Some writers do. But your work has value. Your blog posts and status updates are free. Your work writing, your books, are not free because they’re your income and they’re worth the money for the time and effort you’ve put into them. Treat them that way.

Goodreads is a site for readers, but it also has Author Pages, which authors can use to connect with their readers as readers themselves. The most important part of writing is reading. Here the author can foster that side long before publishing that first book.

There are many other social media sites. It’s tempting to join all of them, but over time too tiring. It’s better to focus on a few and be active on them than spread oneself out too thinly.

The move from paper to pixels lets us authors take control and speeds the publishing process; it gives readers their choice of format; and the trees flutter their leaves in joy.

News

The PayPal Donation Button: The Why

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Update: I’m now on Patreon! Click I’m Reading It! on my home page and support the arts for as low as $1!!


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I can up my income so that I can afford to edit, proofread, and publish my two novels. Of the three, editing is the most expensive part – if I published them strictly as ebooks.

After I revised my first novel early last year, had it critiqued, and revised again, I entered upon the query process. It’s a bit taxing to say the least. But at one point, I realised it had taken so long that I began to have serious concerns about editing the book. It’s bad enough that I don’t remember from chapter to chapter what I write – hence the necessity of outlines! – but to go for months, now a year, between my last revision and the editing process meant memory issues would hinder me. Would I remember what I wanted to say in a particular chapter? Would I remember what I was thinking when I wrote a particular scene? Why I wrote it that way?

The lag time between finishing Lifeliner and editing it was less than a year. I also had the advantage with that book of having lived with it since 1991 and having every fact written down. I had no memory issues concerning content! But novels come out of one’s imagination. So the idea is still there (I hope!), but I’m not sure about the details. I realised I had to make a decision: continue the frustrating process of finding an agent, see if an offer to publish in 2012 was still on the table, or self-publish now before I forgot more of it and then become uninterested. For me, inertia is strong and lethal and is becoming an issue too. And then there’s the small matter of the fact that I want to have final say on the covers and titles of my novels.

For the sake of the book and for all those who’ve expressed an interest in reading She, I must self-publish now.

But how to pay, that is the conundrum.

I can borrow. Or I can borrow from what I’m living on. The former will make already tight budgeting impossible. The latter will shrink that part of my income (already less than CPP disability, which ain’t much), and again make tight budgeting impossible. I’m feeling a bit between the proverbial rock and hard place.

So I hemmed and hawed over Christmas and New Year’s and decided today to try a PayPal Donation button on my website (see the right sidebar). All donations will go towards editing and proofreading She and Aban’s Accension. These are the dollar figures I’m facing today:

Editing She properly for grammar, spelling, structure, style, consistency, etc. through Amazon’s CreateSpace would be $1,700US, through a local editor, over $2,000. In its current form, Aban’s Accension would be less; however, I am hoping after revisions to bring the word count up to standard novel length. If I can, then editing would also be about $1,700 or more. Proofreading is the careful, expert checking of the final manuscript for spelling, grammatical, and other mistakes. For She, it would be about $1,100CDN, depending on the final word count after editing. For Aban’s Accension less or about the same, depending on how many words both the revisions and editing add.

At minimum, I need $5,600CDN to edit and proofread two novels.

If I’m able to raise that and more, I would also like to hire someone to write the back cover copy – the synopsis one reads when deciding whether to buy a book or not. That is a tough paragraph to write, let me tell you! You’d think that after writing a book, writing a couple of paragraphs would be a cinch. Nope. To be blunt: I suck at it. CreateSpace offers that service for $249US.

I already have an idea for the cover of She and believe I can do that myself. Not sure yet about Aban’s Accension. That should cut costs by about $700 to $1,000 for the two books. Preparing and uploading the manuscript, cover, and back cover copy to ebook sites like Smashwords, Kindle, Barnes & Noble is free albeit labour intensive.

Back in the old, old days, before our great-grandparents were born, patrons flocked to support artists and their work. When governments came along, patrons became a rare breed. But today, governments don’t support writers like me – when I tried to apply for a grant from the Canadian, Ontario, and Toronto governments for Lifeliner back in the 1990s, I was informed it was too commercial, so no grant. Sheesh. Writers like me need a new kind of patron: you. I hope you will consider making a donation of any size you choose and click the PayPal Donation button. Thank you!

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P.S. A note about the Donation button. PayPal states that it will charge 30 cents + 4.5% for every payment I receive. So a donation has to be more than 31.5 cents for me to make any money!

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Wonderful News! CreateSpace Proof Copy of my NaNoWriMo Novel Has Arrived!

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Those who completed National Novel Writing Month last November – wrote at least 50,000 words in 30 days – received the offer of a free proof copy from CreateSpace, an Amazon company. We had 6 months to take advantage of it. I looked at it early this year and was overwhelmed with all the terms and steps. What else is new. And then just over 2 weeks ago, NaNoWriMo reminded everyone on Twitter that the 6 months were going to be up soon. Suddenly, I wanted to have that proof copy.

I’d been looking for an agent all this time. I had had a positive response early on from an indie publisher, but I really wanted to find an agent, one who could help me execute all rights, not just print and eBook ones. It’s been (and is) a long, frustrating process, with good feedback but no takers. I suppose it would be easier if they had said my manuscript sucked, but to say my novel is gripping and then turn it down… Well, I want to scream.

And so my novel sits in digital form unseen by any eyes with no physical form to say it’s real. Yes, eBooks are great and gaining momentum, but a novel in manuscript form seems more like hope than reality. When I saw that tweet from NaNoWriMo, I decided I had to see my novel She, see it as a book because who knows how long it’ll be before that actually happens for real, for public consumption.

This week my free proof copy arrived from CreateSpace. The cover quality isn’t that great as it’s rippling from the heat and humidity, and I don’t think clouds against light blue sky rendered that well. But it’s my book. My words. Even my cover. For the first time, a smile reached my lips. It’s difficult to get me excited about anything (thank you brain injury), but I had a moment of feeling it. Yes! I wrote fiction for the first time in 10 years and a novel at that!! For that, the proof is worth it. Now I can continue my endless search.

She Proof Copy Shireen Jeejeebhoy 12-07-2010

An entity from nothing space invades a young songwriter, consuming her. She fights to resist him , to expel him – and discovers where evil really resides.

Lifeliner

Lifeliner eBook listed on Barnes & Noble Website

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I’m excited to announce that the eBook version of Lifeliner is now listed on the Barnes & Noble website for the Nook. According to Mashable.com, Barnes & Noble “has gained 20% of the e-book market in just the last year.” On top of that, to answer the competition, they’ve reduced the prices of their Nook WiFi to $149US and their Nook 3G + WiFi to $199US. eReaders have never been so affordable. It’s the best time ever to stock up on your summer reading. The advantage of eReaders is that they hold hundreds or thousands of books. No more lugging around a stack of books. And no more having to heft large-sized bestsellers or hide pure escapist junk. No one knows what you’re reading on an eReader!

Luckily, no one would want to hide the fact that they’re reading Lifeliner. If you’ve been waiting for it to become available on the Nook or to be more affordable or just because, wait no more. Go to Barnes & Noble, order the eBook (or click here), and within seconds you’ll be reading Lifeliner. Or if you prefer your books in paperback or hard cover, Barnes & Noble stocks those formats too. And if you have another eReader and want to check out the eBook version, Smashwords.com has every format available. Just click here.

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In other news, I’ve submitted Lifeliner to Amazon DTP. Look soon for the eBook for the Kindle to be downloadable from Amazon.

If you’ve bought Lifeliner from Smashwords.com — or Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Chapters, for that matter — I’d  be very grateful if you could take 5 minutes to write a review!

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Publishing in Transition: Amazon, Apple, Macmillan Duke it Out

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There’s been much talk about Amazon, Macmillan, and Apple’s iPad in the last couple of weeks. Amazon has been increasingly aggressive towards publishers. First they forced companies that support self-publishing and that use POD (print on demand) technology to give them more piece of the pie — at the expense of the author. Second, Amazon came out with the Kindle to sell eBooks in formats that only the Kindle can read; then they set the price to $9.99, and no more, whether publishers liked it or not. And third, when the mainstream publisher Macmillan balked, Amazon did to it what they’d done so successfully to the POD publishers: remove the Buy button until the publisher falls in line.

But Macmillan didn’t fall into line, insisted on being able to set their own eBook prices, and Amazon conceded and has been slowly restoring the Buy buttons. The battle is not over yet and it isn’t that simple, for Apple has brought out the iPad, Sony and other companies produce readers with eInk technology, and unlike the Kindle, they all can read books in many different formats. Amazon has competition. Apple and Sony Reader bookstores allow the publishers to set the price for eBooks, as does Chapters eBookstore, Kobo. Publishers are more likely to supply these eBookstores than they are Amazon’s kindle library.

Several people-in-the-know have opined on this issue, so I thought I’d toss in my penny, all that I have left after publishers and retailers take what they consider they’re entitled to, after all I’m just the writer, the author, the kind of person without whom there’d be no books. Ahem.

As a reader, I prefer mass paperbacks. They’re light, portable, and affordable. I really resent publishers who quickly follow the Canadian dollar down and raise the price, but take way longer to lower it as the dollar increases in value dramatically. I usually buy trade paperbacks for non-fiction books or maybe when there’s no mass paperback version available. They’re less affordable than mass paperbacks, and so I restrict my purchases of them or wait until they hit the remainder table. I only read hard covers either when someone gives me one as a gift (can’t remember when that last happened), or I want a particular book as a keepsake, or for straight pleasure reading when I find an interesting one on the remainder table. eBooks I’m new to. I received the Sony Reader for Christmas, and I’ve been dipping my toe into the eBook market and the virtual library. As a person with a brain injury, I find it much easier to read eBooks as there’s no visual distractions, which can seriously affect my reading, retention, and learning. With eBooks, I can zoom in and see just the text I’m reading. The Sony Reader also allows me to write notes and bookmark pages. My grandmother used to fold her paperbacks and turn down pages; made me cringe. I like my books pristine. But with eBooks, I don’t have to worry about it. There’s no beauty or art to spoil, and electronic notes and bookmarks can easily be wiped clean.

So as an author, I think about these things when thinking about the current book publishing war and how to sell my book (soon to be books). And so I’m not so sure that Macmillan’s attitude of setting a high price for eBooks is the right way to go.

My first book Lifeliner: The Judy Taylor Story came out in trade paperback, hard cover, and eBook all at the same time. I figured no one was going to buy hard covers except those who wanted a keepsake. Boy, was I wrong. People are still buying hard covers of Lifeliner. True, not nearly as many are buying them or eBooks as they are trade paperbacks, but what it says to me is that we all have preferred formats. Some like hard covers and won’t buy paperbacks; some will only buy paperbacks (like me); and some are on the cutting edge and buy eBooks. iUniverse’s SOP of releasing all formats at the same time left it to the readers to decide which format they wanted to buy, and I had no quibble with that. When marketing Lifeliner, I did not consider format an important factor. All I cared about was how many I could sell. And if someone bought a hard cover, with its slightly higher royalty because of its higher price, I considered that a bonus. But whether I was able to recover my costs had nothing to do with whether I could sell enough hard covers, but whether I could sell enough books, period.

On the other hand, publishers are convinced that they can only make money by selling hard covers. They believe that income can only come from a big profit margin, not from volume sold.

Publishers also ascribe to the odd method of flooding the marketplace with a new book and hope not too many come back. That means you don’t really know your earnings until the return period is ended, however many weeks or months that is. It’s also environmentally wasteful, and in the age of good-quality POD and the burgeoning espresso book machine, there’s no reason for it anymore. eBooks also get around that entire problem because eBooks don’t need paper and it’s not likely they’d be returned.

That old-fashioned thinking is why publishers want to (1) price eBooks high, (2) gyp authors on the royalty rate, and (3) release eBooks and paperbacks only several months after hard covers. They believe that anyone who buys eBooks has money to burn and will buy hard covers if they weren’t buying eBooks. I assume they have market data to prove their point, but frankly hard covers are big and heavy, and as a previously voracious reader, I find them too expensive to feed a reading habit unless you get them out of the library. However, I would buy an eBook. I see eBooks as not only satiating the need of voracious readers but also as a way to create a new reading market, a market of people who find books not to their taste, being physical objects and all, expensive, and not cool. Anything digital is cool though. The iPad is cool. The iBookstore will be cool. Coolness is great marketing bait.

The other problem publishers have with realistically pricing eBooks is that in their minds, an affordable price diminishes the value. Huh?

The value of my work is not in how much it costs per copy, but in the copy itself. The value is reflected in the number sold. People pay attention to bestseller status, as determined by sales numbers, not by how much a book costs. Bestseller status usually denotes that this book is good. Purchase price does not.

On the other side, some people say that the price of an eBook is almost zero and the digital revolution means creators should put their work out there for free. Excuse me. But my work is not zero value. My imagination and creativity and ability to think, without which there would be no book, is not of zero value. If you want a free book, write one yourself, and then decide if all that time you spent was of no value.

I believe Amazon’s bully tactics are starting to backfire. It should be up to the publisher and author to set the price of the book, not one elephant-sized retailer who insists that they should be determine price and be given such a huge discount that it will allow them to sell for less than anyone else. It also cuts the author’s royalties. Frankly, I think it borders on anti-trust what Amazon has been doing. But that’s for US courts to decide.

I think publishers are still watching the glaciers recede, and like Amazon, don’t remunerate authors fairly, without whom there would be no books. I think publishers in the US are a bit ahead of their Canadian counterparts, but neither seem to see the possibilities that the iPad and eBook Readers offer, the possibilities of creating a different kind of product and a larger market of readers.

In the past, publishers were essential to authors to getting their books out to the marketplace. But that’s changing for two reasons: (1) publishers more and more expect authors to market their books. The one expertise publishers truly have that authors need — marketing — they are no longer offering except to a few. Since publishers have withdrawn the single biggest asset they offered to authors and since authors now have to pay for publicists and a marketing program, why should authors continue to accept the same low royalty rate? If the author is expected to do what used to be publisher work, then the author should get a bigger piece of the pie. (2) POD, espresso book machine, freelance editors and designers, supported self-publishing companies, all offer alternatives to publishers. These services replace everything publishers do, from editing to book design, allow an author to get a book out much faster than a traditional publisher (and waiting for a book to hit the public is not easy!), and gives an author greater control over the title, cover, and back cover copy. For a Canadian author, these alternatives also mean one can publish using Canadian English.

For mainstream publishers to stay in the game long-term, they need to provide authors that old value or offer a bigger royalty, they need to offer authors a higher royalty for eBooks and other digital media, and they need to provide readers affordably-priced and exciting alternatives. They need to focus on moving books out the door, not on what format those books come in. I haven’t even talked about eBooks beyond the text model, but the iPad will start that revolution too, and publishers and authors ought to start preparing for that. I also haven’t talked about agents. Some believe that the digital revolution will bring about their demise; but it seems to me that authors will need smart agents to help them navigate the minefield of the different kinds of digital rights, in addition to traditional rights like movie and spoken word.

Instead of hanging onto the old model, authors, publishers, and agents need to work together to ask themselves how they can use these new technologies to produce books faster, better, and affordably so as to expand the book-buying audience.

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Bookstores

Connecting to Community

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I spread my presence across the bookstore Net and then realised I was overextended. I signed up for Amazon Connect awhile ago. It’s similar to chapters.indigo.ca Community; in fact the Community is probably a take-off of Connect. I tried to stay current with both, but in the end, especially after all of Amazon’s shenanigans, I’ve let the Amazon Connect profile ride and participate on  and off in the Chapters Indigo Community.

They each have their strengths and weaknesses. I like the Community’s shelves, a sort of virtual replica of one’s bookshelves and CD holders and the fact that you can sign out. But Amazon Connect is soooo much easier to figure out and to find people on it, as long as you’re in the right area of Amazon.com. In contrast, it’s taken me awhile to figure out the Community, and I really don’t like the fact that it doesn’t automatically pull in my blog. Also, their FAQ on whether one can see a person’s profile on the community without being a member of the community wasn’t very helpful. Sure you can, they blithely answered, omitting the small detail of how to find a profile.

My own profile isn’t linked to Lifeliner on the book page, nor does there seem to be a people search feature as on Connect. But since I did happen to mention my book in one of the blogs I posted on the Community, there’s a link to the blog post on the Lifeliner page and hence to my profile. And voilà, I’m found. Sheesh. Connect doesn’t put my profile on the Lifeliner page either. It seems to me that if they want authors to have profiles, the least they could do is put a link or icon or something that a reader can click on to go to my profile. The best part about it is it’s a Canadian community focussed on Canadian authors and readers, which gives it a friendly feel.

Unfortunately, as far as I can see, Amazon.ca does not have the Amazon Connect feature. It doesn’t even list my book as in stock. Now there’s irony for you: even though people have ordered copies of Lifeliner from it, the Canadian subsidiary of Amazon is the only one of the three (US, UK, and Canada) that lists Lifeliner — a Canadian book by a Canadian author on a Canadian topic — as out of stock.

So if you’re an Amazon.com fan, you can find my Connect profile here. And if you prefer chapters.indigo.ca, you can find my Community profile here.

Bookstores

The Sheriff of Nottingham Works for iUniverse and Amazon These Days

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You may remember I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the lack of sales information from iUniverse. Well, today the sales reporting software worked, and I just about choked on my hot chocolate. I called up iUniverse to see if I’d misread the figures, but nope, they were right.

To backtrack a bit, so you’ll have some context: awhile ago Amazon decided to improve its own business performance and that of BookSurge, a print-on-demand printer it owns, by demanding that companies like iUniverse use BookSurge only to print all books sold through Amazon and, as well, that they reduce the wholesale price for Amazon. The story is long, the authors massively pissed, some companies outraged, refusing to be bullied. But not so for iUniverse. Actually, I didn’t know what precisely iUniverse’s response was to being bullied. AuthorHouse, which bought or merged with iUniverse, issued a statement back in April, and that was the sum total of iUniverse’s communications with their authors. At the time, it sounded like so much nothing wrapped up in words, and I got caught up in other, more immediate problems and forgot about it. I would have expected AuthorHouse /iUniverse to muscle up with other POD publishers, but apparently not only is communication with authors tough for them, but also working with their rivals in order to defeat a bigger enemy is as well. Reading their words now, after at last seeing my monthly sales history, I realise they essentially said, “We negotiated alone, and we caved to Amazon’s demands.”

“We do not believe that it is ever in your interest to limit choice.”

In other words, “we did what we thought we had to in order to continue selling your book on Amazon.”

Whatever. When I saw how little I’d earned on a six-book Amazon sale, my
eyebrows rose. I compared the September sales history to old royalty
statements. I frowned. I calculated the per book income from Amazon
versus from Ingrams or iUniverse itself. I gasped. And then I picked up
the phone. The unfortunate who answered never hung up or ended the
call, never pushed back, well, maybe once, politely. When I vented to the suffering associate that perhaps iUniverse’s software snafu conveniently hid the full extent of their capitulation until things had calmed down, he replied that I was being a bit extreme. Maybe. I noted that they neglected to inform authors of the downward change in Amazon sales income, neatly avoiding a massive backflash from authors. Still, why would they keep silent on a 27 percent decrease in income from Amazon? Surely they’d expect the pig waste to hit the fan when authors started reading their royalty statements? Or perhaps they were counting on the notoriously bad business sense and lack of math skills of the stererotypical author?

Ultimately the associate could do nothing about it. And as I told him, I’d learnt that one needed exceptional persistence to reach and to get anywhere with management, so I wasn’t going to bother. I’d just blog about it.

OK, he said. (Like that would make any diff.)

So here I am blogging, the equivalent of yelling into a moving tornado, telling you how iUniverse now sells my book to Amazon at 47% of the cover price, while they continue to sell it to distributors and other retailers at 64% of the cover price, wondering if that will make any difference to where you shop for books. Amazon’s sweet deal means that although my royalty percentage remains constant, I receive less in absolute dollars from Amazon sales.

This tactic is how Amazon has increased its annual revenues by $4 billion from 2006 to 2007 and continues to increase it this year: on the backs of authors like me. While this booming company now saves itself $2.85 each time it buys a copy of my book — giving itself wiggle room if they want to sell it for less than the competition, but in reality having increased its profit margin by that amount as you, its customer, does not see that discount —  it has robbed me of 57 cents per book. And I got zippo say in this drop.

The guy on the phone tried to mollify me by saying that the figures on the monthly sales reports are not the final say and are subject to change on the quarterly royalty statement, whatever that means. Because let’s face it, iUniverse isn’t about to renegotiate its contract with Amazon back to the fairer deal or pay me what I had contracted with them to receive. This is the final straw for me. Ever since the buyout/merge with AuthorHouse, iUniverse has become noncommunicative and its specialty associates here today, gone tomorrow. And now this! I really cannot recommend iUniverse to any author musing about self-publishing nor will I use them for my next book. I will, in fact, actively recommend against AuthorHouse and iUniverse to anyone who is thinking about self-publishing. I am extremely disappointed in both iUniverse and Amazon. But as Kassia Krozser on Booksquare wrote, “Businesses are not nice, fuzzy creatures that cuddle with you in the dark of the night and believe in fairy tales.” Not even when they’re supposed to be your partner in publishing.

Bookstores

Search Inside Lifeliner on Amazon.com

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Amazon.com has recently added a popular feature to my book page — “Search Inside.”

With “Search Inside” a curious customer can click on the image of Lifeliner‘s front cover and get a peek at actual sections of my book. For some books, this feature allows a person to see the entire inside of the book, but for mine, it shows the Front Cover, Table of Contents, Copyright page, an Excerpt, the Back Cover, and “Surprise Me!”

I like the way they executed this feature as it doesn’t show the entire text of Lifeliner, yet does allow a person the electronic equivalent of flipping through the book to see what it’s about.