Tag: <span>BookWorks</span>

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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? Amazon.com 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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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 pottermore.com.

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.