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If you think of Amazon’s book categories – all books on are placed into subject categories – as either crowded or lightly populated, where would you prefer your book to be?  The answer may not be as obvious as you think.  You’ll find more customers in the fast lane, which is where the highest-ranked (for popularity) books can be found, but your book may be lost in the crowd there.  The reverse is also true: there are fewer readers in the less-populated categories, but your book is more likely to stand out there.  If you’re not an established author, standing out is probably essential to selling your book.

stand+out+from+the+crowd+illuminatedMany readers scan the categories as they search for books to buy, and Amazon helps them by listing the 100 top selling (or, at least, ranking) books in each category.  The books toward the top of those lists get the most attention.  That also means getting your book toward the top of one of those lists is a brilliant marketing move.

If you can get your book to number one on a list, you can use that as a promotional talking point, describing your book as “number one on Amazon” (explaining somewhere that this was a category record).  You may gain sales simply by hitting the upper reaches of a category.

The most and least popular categories should come as little surprise if you’ve examined the books on offer at a bookstore or even a supermarket.

The top popular category, persistently (the rankings change a little over time), is Romance ->Contemporary.  Most of the rest of the top ten are romance categories too, and moving down the list you find mystery, fantasy, young adult, science fiction and, after a while, general literary fiction.  This is partly because there are fewer fiction categories than nonfiction, but it also reflects fiction’s popularity.

The least popular categories tend to be technical and scientific, and nonfiction.  When TCK earlier this year put together a list of the most competitive and least-competitive categories, it said this was the least competitive of all: “Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy.”

You can find opportunity here if you discover which categories relevant to your book are more or less popular, and then get your book placed in those which give it the most visibility.

How can you easily tell which categories are more popular?  Look at the entry for the book which is number 1 in the category and scroll down to find its “Amazon Best Sellers Rank,” which is its ranking among all Amazon books.  If you compare that ranking for the books most popular in various categories, you can easily see how competitive the category is – and how easy or difficult it may be to rise toward the top in that category.

Amazon automatically assigns categories to books, but you may be able to change those selections.  If you want to change your category – which is often possible – you may be able to improve your rank, even if you’re not selling more books.  And simply changing your ranking (through getting into a less-competitive category) may make your book more visible, which in turn could lead to selling more books.  Moving your book to a category that doesn’t match it would be a bad move, whatever the statistics.  But more than one category may reasonably match your book.

What if you’re writing fiction, where so many of the categories are crowded?  Look into the subcategories, and consider aiming for a place two or three levels down from the top.books cropIf the available categories don’t include the one you want, pick Non-Classifiable and look at the bottom of the page for the Contact Us link.  There, you can advise Amazon which category you think is best for the book.  Amazon will not add a category to accommodate you, but generally it will shift books between existing categories upon receiving a (reasonable) request.

Anthony Wessel, who published a 30-page book about his father, shared online a part-amusing, part-inspiring story about the power of categories.

“Recently I took this book (not really a book – sold one copy – to myself) and went through the process of putting it into categories. I contacted Amazon and told them how I wanted my book categorized. They responded twice within 6 hours each time. ‘One Minute Washington D.C. Travel Stories’ is now an Amazon Bestseller – in a very small category. I used 2 of my KDP select free days. Promoted it on our The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List. Gave away 251 copies. Initial rank was 756,256. After my free days it reached an overall rank of 244,849.”

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As an indie author, you can find a growing number of options for running book giveaways, but you’ll need to choose carefully to stay on the positive side of the ledger.

Give them away?  Giving away books you’re trying to sell may seem counterintuitive, and it doesn’t work equally well for everyone.  Some authors have reported sending books to people who enter every contest to win a free book, so in some cases they’re not connecting with actual interested readers.  One book giveaway analysis said, “Anecdotal evidence suggests giveaways attract contest junkies: those who enter everything and do not discriminate.  There was the one somewhat infamous example of an author whose Swedish-language book was won by someone who didn’t read Swedish.”

But many indie authors have used giveaways successfully to generate book reviews, especially on Amazon, and to prime buyer interest in the title.  Marketing expert and BookWorks blogger Penny Sansevieri has described giveaways as one of the best ways to raise interest in a new book, and “in fact, I have done pre-publication giveaways that have really helped to spike success and reviews on the site, she says.”

You have at least three distinct widely used approaches to choose from.

One, the oldest, is based at Goodreads, the reader-author site that first tried book giveaways on a large scale.

The books you give away there have to be print books, not eBooks, so you’ll have printing and shipping costs.   You can choose how many books to give away (interest tends to grow with the number of free books) and how long the contest runs, and arrange the shipping yourself.  When it’s over, Goodreads picks at random and sends you a list of winners, and you send the books to them.  You can contact these winners with a note (just once, when you send the book); many gently suggest the reader provide a review.  Some do, some don’t.  Goodreads has estimated review follow-through on about 60 percent of free giveaway books.Goodreads-Logo

You have flexibility in timing and targeting the giveaway.  It can start even before your book is released, or long afterward.  You also can limit the giveaways to groups or geographical areas.

In July Amazon (which now owns Goodreads) announced it would offer its own giveaway program as well.  The setup is similar to Goodreads, but more fully in-house.  That means, for example, Amazon handles book shipping itself (though you’re billed for the book and the costs).  It also designates the winners differently from Goodreads, either declaring the first respondents as winners, or winners being every 10th (or whatever number) person to respond.  Like Goodreads, you determine the number of books given away, and at Amazon the contest ends when all of those books are won – which can be in a matter of minutes or hours, or much longer.  Responsibility for publicizing or advertising the giveaway lies with the author.

Watch the costs and procedure closely.  Since Goodreads lets you manage the shipping to winners, you can ship for the publishers’ print on demand book cost, while Amazon requires you to buy each of those books at regular retail price, which is much higher.

Goodreads also gives you more flexibility in how long the contest runs, and how much visibility it generates.  Some authors have run contests there as long as several months to milk the exposure.  You lose that control with Amazon.

Here’s the third option:  If you were planning to use your own social media and other contacts to push the giveaway anyway, why not run it yourself?  You can do that through a site called Rafflecopter, which many large companies producing all kinds of products also use for giveaways.  (Its web site says it has run 325,681 giveaways in the last year.)  It offers a free option, and more expansive services ($13 or $84 a month) for a fee.  You get a widget that can be embedded on your website and integrated with Facebook and Twitter.  When people respond, you can collect their email addresses, which is highly useful for marketing down the road.  You can also require participants to sign up for your author newsletter or follow your social media to enter the contest.  Rafflecopter picks the winner or winners, but it does so when you ask it to.rafflecopter

Unlike the other two options, you can give away eBooks or, for that matter, anything else you want.  It’s the least expensive giveaway option.

The downside may be that your book giveaway isn’t associated with a more known brand like Amazon or Goodreads and some people may be a little more reluctant to participate.  How much response you get depends entirely on you.

Think through your options carefully.  But do consider giveaways as a way to drive up interest in your book.  It was very successful when authors first started trying it a year or so ago, and it still works well for many self-publishers.

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If you’re like a lot of self-publishers, you’re scrambling – or have been, or will be – to find people to review your book. Reviews are important.  They are critical to sales.

Many traditional mass media outlets have been scaling back their book reviews, and competition for a spot in the places that remain can be fierce.

Worry not.  Many outlets still review books.  Some even specialize in indie books.

These days, many reviewers will accept electronic versions of your book, often including PDF files, and the cost of submitting electronically is much less than the cost sending out print copies.  Try to send your review copies two to three months in advance of your book’s release so you can take best advantage of the reviews you receive.

Publishers Weekly, the trade magazine of the book publishing industry (and our partner in BookWorks), offers scores of book reviews in every weekly issue, in major categories including fiction, nonfiction and children’s.  PW highlights indie books in the recurring section called PW Select, which appears six times a year.  PW Select imposes no fee in submitting a book for review, (but a review is not guaranteed).

Several major review publications, including Kirkus Reviews*, accept indie books for review.  Kirkus is one of the best-known book reviewers, but it reviews indie books only when the publisher pays a $425 fee for the review.  That process takes seven to nine weeks; you can shorten that to four to six weeks for $575.

IndieReader*, specializing in indie books, offers reviews in five to nine weeks for $225, or faster for an additional $75.

Lesser-known free review services are plentiful on the web.

At least a couple of web sites, the Indie Book Reviewer and The Indie Book Reviews List, list scores of book review locations, most of which accept Indie press and self-published books.  They break down reviewers by type of book preferred, from romance, historical and horror to nonfiction, comedy and inspirational.  Both seem to be set up mainly as a help for readers to find reviews and search for something to read, but they’re useful for authors and publishers too.

The quality of these review sites is varied, from haphazard to highly polished, with standards that vary as widely, and your book may get better results on one site than another.  Your best tack is to work your way down the lists, investigating review sites that might match your book’s subject and approach.  At each site, look at both the main review pages and the “about” or “how to submit” sections.

Always check to make sure your book isn’t one of the types – either by publication method or subject matter – the reviewer doesn’t accept.  Most of these review site managers are explicit about where their interests do, and do not, lie.

A review site called Astounding Books, for example, says it “is open to receiving solicited and unsolicited Advance Reading Copies and Review Copies of books from authors and publishers.  Our preferred genres are speculative fiction, which include: fantasy, urban fantasy, dystopian and science fiction as well as young adult speculative/dystopian.  We do occasionally review current fiction/literature and will also consider mysteries, true crime and graphic novels if we can convince our part-time reviewer (my wife) to read the novel.  We will accept self-published novels as well.  In fact, we encourage it.”

They add that “Our review copy preference is for eBooks, followed by print copies. Our preferred format is EPUB. If you want to send us a physical copy of your novel, please email us and we will give you the address to mail it to. Novels will not be returned.”  Many other sites have similar policies.


The review sites seem to be weighted a little more heavily toward sci-fi, mystery, romance and horror, but options are available for almost anyone.  Many reviewers focus on fiction, but not all.  McNeil’s Reviews, for example, “is geared toward nonfiction books.  Books must be nonfiction such as how-to, biographies, memoirs, self-help, etc. Indie books are okay but must be free from excessive grammar and spelling errors. Books need to be posted and sold on Amazon.”

Of course, submitting a book for review doesn’t guarantee a good review or guarantee a review at all.  You take your chances.

But if you get a positive review, you can quote from it on the cover of your book and use that to boost your book marketing.  The kind of “validation” you can get from a book review can be invaluable as you send your new book out into the world.

*Kirkus and Indie Reader are affiliate partners of BookWorks, and discounts on their review services are among the perks our premium members enjoy.

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Indie book writing and publishing offer the opportunity to experiment, to develop new kinds of writing with new tools. One of these new tools is Leanpub.

Traditionally, writers and publishers do their research and write and edit behind closed doors, only afterward releasing the results to the world. It’s worked that way since the days of scrolls and papyrus, and it is the way most of us are accustomed to working. But opening up the writing and editing process to public groups is now a possibility, and well worth considering for certain types of books.

Leanpub is an online service that allows authors to write, edit, publish and sell an eBook at the same time the book is available – can be read and feedback given – on line. The site describes it this way: “Leanpub lets you write in one source manuscript in plain text, using your favorite plain text writing tools, and with one click produce an ebook in PDF (for computers), EPUB (for iPad, iPhone and Nook, etc.) and MOBI (for Kindle) formats.” Frequent changes, additions and updates are allowed.

Writing on Leanpub is akin to writing a blog post in software like WordPress, with a text window and formatting options. It doesn’t have the design controls necessary to create print books, but it has most of the relevant tools for eBooks, which are what it produces. Use of the online tools is free. Books can be sold through Leanpub’s online store (authors get a 90 percent royalty, minus 50 cents, for books sold there) or through any other eBook retailer, like Smashwords or Kindle.

What’s particularly unusual about it is that, while you’re writing online, readers you invite or who just happen by can view your manuscript-in-progress, can offer editing advice and suggestions. It’s a way of crowdsourcing research and editing for your book, with immediate feedback that can be highly useful for certain kinds of writing.

Suppose, for example, you’re a writer of technical or scientific material in a fast-evolving field. The ability to make frequent changes and updates in your book, even updating from season to season or month to month, could be a big plus. Most of the books published through Leanpub so far are scientific and technical, with titles like “Software Architecture for Developers,” “Exploring ES6” and “Symfony Certification.” Books such as these benefit from getting regular online updates.

Certain types of fiction might benefit from instant feedback as well. Imagine writing a novel chapter by chapter, the way many 19th century authors like Dickens and Doyle did (or the way some bloggers do now). You could get immediate reader response and comment, making fiction writing interactive and possibly more profitable.

Leanpub offers a fresh marketing and sales option as well. Readers could be given the option to buy a book still in early stages, maybe at a reduced price, along with the chance to influence its development. This could be something like a Kickstarter project that allows contributors inside the writing and editing process. Buyers could become something like investors buying wine futures, offering both financing and advice.

The concept won’t work for everyone, even in technical or scientific areas. Technical writer Jurgen Appelo looked into Leanpub after several other writers suggested it, and he found too many issues. Its formatting options were too limited for many kinds of book production work, he said.
He also took issue with the kind of feedback Leanpub offers: “Continuous deployment of unfinished products is great for software, but not for movies, books, and music. Very few people I know want to read the same book more than once. Me neither! I want to read your book when it’s finished, not while you’re still working on it. Sure, iterating is crucial while you’re still seeking feedback from beta readers and proofreaders. But they are not the final audience!” He pointed out that he could get significant reader comment by using his blog, PDF files and the MailChimp email service for delivery.

Leanpub appears to be growing, however, and its website carries some arresting testimonials. “I earn more royalties from my books on Leanpub than I do with well established publishers or through Amazon (which I publish on thanks to Leanpub’s mobi conversion),” said one person. Another said, “Leanpub is a game changer for independent authors, removing the hassles associated with formatting, book production, and electronic sales, freeing up the time to do what we do best: write.”

It’s one more tool in the rapidly expanding Indie toolbox.

Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.

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If you’re planning to publish an eBook any time soon, you might be interested in the results from two recent book industry studies:

Keep those eBook prices down.

And don’t get carried away with your financial expectations.

You can see the case for low eBook prices in the just-issued September Author Earnings Report, (from indie author Hugh Howey and his Data Guy), which examines the book industry overall and especially authors’ earnings within it.

The “Big 5” traditional publishers have sold their eBooks for high prices for years. The new bestselling novels by Lee Child and Sue Grafton, for example, sell for $14.99 in their Kindle editions, far more than most Indie authors charge for their eBooks.

The Author Earnings report noted, “Over the past 18 months, [large traditional publishers have] responded to shrinking eBook sales with progressive and continual eBook price hikes. But now, in 2015, the largest traditional publishers are seeing both their eBook revenue and their overall dollar revenues — including print revenue — declining.”

Does that mean the eBook-buying marketplace is in decline? doesn’t think so, and the Wall Street Journal reported, “Amazon says eBook sales in its Kindle store—which encompasses a host of titles that aren’t published by the five major houses—are up in 2015 in both units and revenue.”

In other words, various forms of Indie publishing, including some of the new Amazon publishing options, now are making up for the declines felt by larger publishers. The Author Earnings report said that “indie self-published books, which made up 36% of all Kindle eBooks purchased in February 2014, now make up 42% of all Kindle eBooks being purchased on Amazon right now.” The dollars earned by Indies have been growing as well.

The Author Earnings report goes on to say, “When we first started analyzing Kindle sales in February 2014, traditionally-published authors were taking home nearly 60% of the eBook royalties earned in the largest bookstore in the world. Not anymore. Today, traditionally-published authors are barely earning 40% of all Kindle eBook royalties paid, while self-published indie authors and those published by Amazon’s imprints are taking home almost 60%.”

Why has all this been happening, and why now?

The “why” is less conclusive than the “what,” but the Author Earnings report offered some ideas.

Put simply, charging higher prices seemed to carry little penalty in the marketplace when e-readers first were being introduced around 2010. Now, as fewer people are busily stocking their e-readers, price points may be a more sensitive issue.

Here’s another factor. For a couple of years after a 2013 federal court decision pointing to price collusion between Apple and several large publishers, eBook prices dropped, as part of an interim series of agreements to cut those prices. In the last year, however, those agreements have expired, and prices have risen again.

More specifically, when eBook prices jump above $10 a book, those lower indie prices still hovering around $6-8 look a lot more attractive to a lot of readers.

Amazon has analyzed this (of course) and reported on its Kindle forum in July 2014, “For every copy an eBook would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if compared at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular eBook at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.”

Still, as long as indie authors compete in a marketplace where they can easily undersell the competition, they may continue to increase their share of the market.

They will need to, because a new survey from The Author’s Guild of its members shows writers are earning less than they did six years ago – at the dawn of the eBook era – and are spending more time on marketing. The Authors Guild membership consists mainly of traditionally-published professional writers, so they aren’t fully representative of the self-published community (though their survey indicates that a third of their authors have self-published). Still, the survey results are worth bearing in mind for self-publishers.

Among Guild members, the report said, author income has dropped by 30 percent for full-time authors and 38 percent for part-timers. It cites book industry consolidation, online book piracy and the rise of self-publishing as contributing to that decline in income for so many authors.

Writers are spending much more time on marketing now than in 2009 (about 59% more), and “many publishing contracts now require authors to maintain a web and social media presence. Many authors, both traditionally and self-published, have proven adept at using new technologies to connect with readers.”

But in all this, the Guild report does find a bright side: “The opportunities for author-reader engagement are unsurpassed in the history of book publishing—even if this engagement competes with an author’s writing time.” That’s a lesson many self-publishers already have learned for themselves in the past few years. It is part of what makes it all worthwhile.

Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.

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What to do? Your book is finally ready to go. Now the question becomes what should you publish first—your eBook, your print book, or both at the same time?

Every time I help an author prepare for a book release, we bump up against this question. And, it turns out there is no perfect answer—no one-size-fits-all.

One theory suggests that releasing all versions together allows you to make more efficient use of your marketing efforts: Visibility lasts only so long, and if both versions of the book are released at once, they will both be timed to best coincide with publicity, advertising, giveaways or other marketing approaches you already have under way.

But there’s also the thought that early release of an eBook can help build buzz for the subsequent print book release, which can be promoted as the main event. When I posed this idea on a writer’s forum, one writer suggested, “A new self-publisher might release only an eBook edition first and use promotional programs such as Kindle Select in an effort to build a reader base, and only produce a print edition if/when the eBook has gained some traction.”

Still others think the print book should be released first. Since print books usually are more profitable per copy, the idea is that buyers should be encouraged to buy the print book first and only given the option to buy electronic version afterward.

In the past the authors I work with and I have leaned toward that third idea; it seems intuitive. But as I’ve become a more frequent user of e-readers, my view has changed. Now I suspect that most people will decide to either will buy the print or eBook edition, but aren’t likely to change their decision based on which edition is available first.


This question has generated a lot of discussion, and no small bit of study in the book industry.

In July 2012 writer Joe Wikert reviewed a report analyzing the effect of eBooks on print sales, and concluded, “For popular books, delaying eBook release dates leads to a significant substitution toward print books. In contrast, for niche books, that do not have strong brand awareness among consumers, we find an insignificant substitution toward print books when eBook release dates are delayed. [Further,] the net effect of delayed Kindle releases is an overall loss in sales and, based on the best available data, a net loss in revenue and profit to the publisher.” In other words, it matters mainly in the case of bestsellers.

Wikert concluded, “All those other books out there with either delayed eBook releases or, more importantly, no eBook releases, are leaving money on the table. That last point is the most important takeaway for me.”

Evan Schnittman, a vice president at Oxford University Press, suggested back in 2009 that, “I don’t think you want to withhold content from the public. I’m pretty sure that when a customer decides to buy a Kindle, they are making a decision to start becoming an eBook consumer.”

Today, in most cases I would lean toward releasing print and eBook versions about the same time, unless you have a specific marketing strategy for using one or the other as a promotional lever. Most often,that would mean promoting discount eBook copies a little ahead of the print version.

You’ll want to think this through carefully. Every book calls for its own distinct marketing plan. There is no one-size-fits-all, but now, for me and for most of my clients, releasing the eBook and print book at the same time is the strategy that works best.

Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.
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When people read your book, they read you.

When I read a book, I seek out the “about the author” page. Many one-paragraph author bios are not especially enlightening or entertaining, and I don’t expect a full scale memoir, but even the briefest can tell me something about the author’s relationship to the book, and sometimes give me a reason to search out their other titles.

Consider offering the reader more than just the usual name, city of residence, occupation and when you started writing.

In one blog post, writer TA Sullivan recounted waffling about whether to write a bio for her own book, then reflected how she scanned the bios of other writers as she chose books at a store or library. “Nowadays, I still check out the author’s bio when looking for a book to read. Clever bios, witty bios, or even sincere bios can help me connect with the author, which then makes taking a chance on their book seem not quite so chancy. An author’s bio can help remind the readers that you (the author) are a person, too,” she said.

Her point has statistical backup at Smashwords. The giant ebook distributor said on its website, “In 2011 when we surveyed ebook buyers and asked them their most common decision factor that guided how they discover and purchase books, the #2 answer, accounting for 18% of respondents, was that they first look for books from their favorite authors. This speaks to the importance of author as brand. Your “brand” is what you represent to your readers, and how your readers perceive you and your ability to write great stories.”

In typical Smashwords fashion, it used that information to make available to authors an “interview” page containing sample questions you can use or discard, with the option of adding your own. (It’s a self-interview.) It’s an easy-reading and low-stress way of connecting better with readers.

“The secret to creating a great Smashwords Interview is to ask yourself questions that prompt honest answers that address what readers would want to know about you (even if they don’t yet know they want to know it), and what you want readers to know about you. You want to find that common intersection where what you want to share matches what your target readers might enjoy knowing about you,” it said.

That’s good advice. The idea of searching out points of common interest with readers is much like what skilled politicians do on the handshake circuit: “Oh, you like boiled cucumbers? What a coincidence – so do I.”

The many places on the web where authors can and should list their books, from Amazon to Goodreads to Bowker (home of the ISBN numbers) and many more, almost all have free space for authors to enter biographical information. I’ll admit to sometimes rushing through and leaving some of these blank when I’m in a hurry. Now I try to keep a standard bio handy for cut and paste, so the work of posting your name and story around the web only need last a few seconds.


You can do more than this on your author website. Most websites of traditionally published authors do carry longer bio material on their “about the author” page – more at least than usually appears in a print book. Does your author page have maybe one or two paragraphs of background information about you? The author site bio for Gillian Flynn, who wrote Gone Girl, runs nine paragraphs. That is not overlong but enough to provide some color to her story and add links to her previous books.

I’m experimenting on my site with something longer still, a “mini-memoir” more than twice as long as this post. It’s not that my life has been so engrossing to the average stranger, but that added insight into me may give some readers a better idea of who I am and what we might have in common, and something in it may trigger the memory of my name more easily when the next time comes to pick up a book. A video may be coming next.

Sullivan explained when writing about her own author bio, “I admit to finding it hard to ‘brag’ about myself. I don’t consider myself all that interesting . . .” I get it. Most of us can sympathize.

But we’re writers: Making it interesting is what we do.
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E-books are all well and good, some new authors say, but what about piracy? Wouldn’t it be too easy for someone to steal my book if it’s out there in electronic form?

After all, you can look at the music and video industries and see the important commercial damage done by people illicitly copying and spreading songs and videos. The music industry is making a lot less money now than it was 20 years ago, partly because of copyright infringement. Why couldn’t the same happen to books?

It’s a fair question, and it has concerned even large book companies. In 2012 a group of large publishers and other related companies went to court to stop what they said was illegal sharing of book files (mainly PDF files) online by two websites, and That effort reportedly shut down those sites.

There haven’t been many other reports of large-scale book piracy cases since. Piracy doesn’t seem to have become nearly so big a problem for book authors and publishers as it has been in other industries.

When a podcast on book marketing recently opened the topic to discussion, one commenter suggested, “I think the market for pirated books is pretty small compared to music. People listen to dozens of songs (or albums) per day, and collect them just to collect them and have them at their disposal. I don’t see that with books.”

Another pointed out that many e-books are already available either free or at a low cost. And, “Who would use a Napster for books?”

A study released last month by the United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property Office found the numbers of book pirates are indeed small. While the numbers of music and video infringers remain significant, it said, “The e-book category has the lowest level of infringement with only 6% of category users accessing illegal content.” That’s about a quarter to a third the rate of music piracy.

Pirated books may increase sales more than dampen them. In 2009 publishing consultant Brian O’Leary looked at sales figures for several books (for the technical books publisher O’Reilly Media) after they had appeared on pirate websites, and found that legal sales actually increased. The economic theory behind free copies driving sales is what has encouraged, in more recent years, the rush of many indie publishers to offer their e-books for free, on dozens of websites devoted to the practice, in hopes of generating larger sales down the road.

Indie writers probably have less to worry about in this area anyway than, say, authors of bestsellers whose legal prices for e-book and print versions remain considerably higher.

Still, if you see your book’s electronic file being offered for free by someone who has no right to do that, you probably should take action. One of the benefits of free offerings by indie publishers, for example, is being able to control and analyze the results, which pirates wouldn’t let you do.

If you spot one case of copyright infringement, run a search through Google or other search engines to see if you can find others – either of the same book or a different one you wrote. Record where they’re located.

Check on the web page for a link to either the webmaster or copyright policy, or reports of abuse. Contact through that link and report the abuse, and save your email in a record. Often the “take down” request is enough to kill the link from the site. If you see a link to the specific person who has posted the pirated material, send a “take down” notice, warning that they have no right to disseminate the book, to them too. That warning may be enough to get them to quit. Then, check a few days or a week later to see if the link is gone.

You have the option, as the book companies did, of taking the matter to a lawyer and heading to court. But as in so many other kinds of disputes, everyone (the lawyers excepted) probably will be happier if it doesn’t come to that.

Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.
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One of the most pungent, entertaining and candid dialogues you may ever read between two indie writers, available in transcript, came in March 2011 between Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, two science fiction novelists who were traditionally published before moving into self-publishing.

Both felt strongly about going indie.

How strongly?

Eisler confirmed he’d been offered a half-million dollars by a traditional publisher, and rejected it to self-publish instead. “I know it’ll seem crazy to a lot of people,” he told Konrath, “but based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers like you are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.”

Even Konrath, a long-time advocate for independent publishing, sounded a little stunned at the dollar amount, but not at the point Eisler was making. He said, “My switch to self-publishing isn’t personal. It’s just business. I can make more money on my own.”

For example, he added: “Currently, my novel The List is the #15 bestseller on all of Amazon. I wrote that book 12 years ago, and it was rejected by every major NY publisher. I self-published it on Amazon two years ago, and it has sold over 35,000 copies. … In self-publishing, I’m seeing more and more books take their sweet time finding an audience, then take off.”

Eisler and Konrath are not rare examples among strongly-selling traditionl authors who take the independent route. In my last post, I wrote about mystery writer Lawrence Block’s experiences in self-publishing. And the numbers are growing.

I’ve had no bestseller books, but this week I’m working on both traditionally published and self-published book projects, one in the mornings, the other in the afternoons.

Many such authors combine traditional publishing and independent approaches.

J.K. Rowling, whose wildly popular Harry Potter print books were traditionally published, is now offering those books in digital form herself on the website

Susan Wittig Albert, traditionally published fiction writer (of the China Bayles and the Darling Dahlias mysteries and many more) went indie when publishers took a pass on a fictionalized story about the origins of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books. In the February edition of Writer’s Digest she reported aggressively marketing the book through social media, reviews (highly favorable) and elsewhere, and promptly sold more than 12,000 copies and sold rights to other publishers. “I’d do it all – all over again,” she said.

On the research website Quora, sci-fi novelist Michael J. Sullivan remarked that, “I’m actually moving toward ‘hybrid’ which means I’ll do both traditional and self-publishing. The traditional route has worked out well for me, established creditability and expanded my audience. … But I hate the draconian contracts and the business models of trade. Self offers higher income (per book), complete freedom and a faster time to market.”

In his book On Writing, Stephen King describes writing and making money from his first horror novel – as a self-publisher. That was in high school, the novel was brief and made on a cheap copier, and he had to give back the sales money after the school principal found out he’d been selling copies on campus. But before he was caught, he was making (a little) money on the book.

Later on, of course, King became a traditionally published massively selling author. But as he was an example early on of an author who moved into self-publishing before a big publisher came calling, so has he been among those stepping back into self- and independent publishing. In 2000, he experimented with a serially-released book called “The Plant,” made available through his website. He later released digital-only tales (“Riding the Bullet,” “Ur”) himself, while also continuing releasing his work through traditional publishers.

Many other authors have worked in both worlds. Their approaches have been as widely varied as independent publishing itself.