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Amazon Exclusivity: Well, Maybe

It would seem to be an easy question to answer; would I, in exchange for several juicy benefits, give Amazon exclusive rights to distribute my book? Given that I don’t use Smashwords due to quality control issues and given also that every major distributor except Amazon hates us dirty foreigners/indies/dirty foreign indies all to heck, why wouldn’t I go with Amazon exclusivity?

Well, for one, because exclusivity often leads to complications. In a certain sense it’s a bet; Amazon is currently the biggest name in e-book distribution, but will that continue? What if something changes? What if the KDP terms are altered (pray I do not alter them further), what if royalties are cut in half? I don’t personally see Amazon coming out behind in any e-retail fight, but who knows what the future holds—and what they might decide to do should they achieve that elusive monopoly. I have a certain amount of trust in Amazon (or, to be more specific, in Amazon’s business sense; they know not to mess with a good, profitable thing), but things could always change.

Right now I certainly can’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to exclusivity because this is all still very much speculation based on rumour, although it’s a pretty solid one as far as rumours go. I don’t know the details of the contract involved or what Amazon might offer, and so a lot of questions are raised. Would this exclusivity be for a set length of time, or could one ‘opt out’ with a certain amount of notice? What, exactly, are they offering—the ability to make your books free whenever you want (attractive), the option to make a product page for your books before they’re released and take pre-orders (very attractive)? What if (as is rumoured) some manner of special promotional options were included (extremely attractive)? Does exclusivity extend only to other retailers, or would it prohibit selling through my website—or even giving away books for free? What if I offered ePub versions of my books through my website as a free download with a donate button nearby (as I have tentative plans to do), would that conflict with ‘exclusivity’? What if a situation came up like I had earlier this year, with Power Play not being available to buy (for two freaking months), would I be allowed to offer it as a free download, as I did then?

Lots of questions, but of course no answers. As mentioned, this is all based on speculation which is in turn based on rumour. Pointless? Well, I believe it’s good to start thinking about these things early. It’d be a big decision to make, perhaps one of the biggest as an indie author; do I want to trust Amazon to be my sole distributor?

As things stand I think my answer could be ‘yes’, but it really does depend on the terms of the exclusivity contract and the bonuses offered. With that said I feel that the benefits for myself could easily (and heavily) outweigh any negative points. There’s another aspect to this too, one I mentioned right at the start; as things stand, Amazon really is the only major distributor that does us indies any favours at all—from the ease of use and openness of KDP to the mysterious Amazon algorithms working in our favour (without ‘also boughts’ I doubt I’d have even the few sales I enjoy), there is the sense that they have a certain amount of respect for us (or at least for the money we bring in). I do feel an odd sort of loyalty to The Mighty Zon for that; for the opportunities Amazon has given me.

Although with that said if this does all come to be and I am faced with this choice, my decision will be based on reason rather than emotion. I’ll read the contract, consider the benefits, consult with my learned peers, think things over, and only THEN will I click “YES YES TAKE MY INDIE SOUL GIVE ME THE SHINY TOYS YES”.

As a final thought, pairing this rumour with ANOTHER rumour, that Amazon may allow formats other than Mobi (most importantly ePub) to be sold through the Kindle store, well … that would make things look even more attractive. In any case it looks like 2012 is going to be a very interesting year. Very interesting indeed.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2011 in Of Writing

 

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So You Say You Want A Revolution

Lately I’ve noticed a trend, of sorts, towards downplaying the changes in the current state of publishing–that is, a lot of people are saying ‘this is not revolutionary, self-publishing has been around forever, all that has changed is the number of people self-publishing’.

To me this seems wrong, because I see a clear revolution–removing the cost of printing and distribution is a huge change that opens the world to anyone with an Internet connection. Instant, near-zero cost replication and delivery, how is that NOT a revolution? And not just for self-publishing but for traditional publishers also–recent developments have exposed the flaws in their systems, which is why a lot of traditional publishers (and bookstores) are now struggling. Well, that and the fact that hardly anyone reads any more–but I think that this, too, is changing.

Actually, let me talk about that for a moment. It’s common knowledge that the state of literacy in the Western World is pretty dire. Yes, there are still people who read, but compared to other activities reading is pretty much bottom-rung, especially if you’re talking about fiction rather than newspapers or magazines. Even for me, I read far less these days than I did growing up, and part of the reason for that is when I was around twelve or so I ran out of books. I’d read everything I wanted to at the local library, and whenever I heard about a new book that sounded interesting, it was never available–or if it was, it was too expensive for me to take a chance on. So I settled into a groove, only reading my most favourite, trusted authors, and I spent more time with games and TV and movies and so forth. I still read, of course, but less than I had when younger.

However. If the Kindle had been around at that time, it’s probable that a lot more of my time would’ve been spent reading–I remember spending hours going through Amazon, looking at all the books I wanted to read, but the barrier of ‘shipping cost’ prevented me from buying all but those I most wanted. (Which were mostly RPG rulebooks and comics, come to think of it.)

So, my optimistic prediction for the future is that slowly but surely reading is going to crawl its way back up. More and more people are going to embrace e-readers (or reading on their phones), e-books will become mainstream, prices will come down, and the world will be a slightly better place for it. This will, of course, also be great for indie authors, because people will get used to the idea of searching out new books, and websites and so on will spring up to cater to this. We’re seeing some of this now, but my feeling is that The Big Idea hasn’t hit us yet.

In any case, as I’ve said before and will say again, it’s the best time in the history of the world to be a writer of any kind, and things are just getting started.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Of Writing

 

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Ben’s Advice To Marty (or: So You’re About To Put Out Your First Book)

So, Marty, you’re about to nervously publish your first book. That’s great! There’s a lot of advice and hints and tips and all of that useful and lovely stuff out there from experienced people who know what they’re talking about. Less from people who are just barely starting–what I mean is, sometimes the advice you get from people who are experienced and successful just doesn’t seem relevant to you, The Beginner.

So here we go.

1) Relax. This isn’t as scary as it seems. If you’re not scared, then you may be overconfident. Look into that. Because this whole thing IS scary, of that there’s no doubt, you’re putting yourself out there for the world to do with as it pleases, that’s not exactly a comfortable thing. But it does get easier, you do get used to it. Just remember why you’re doing this, just remember that there ARE people out there who want to read what you’ve written. Above all, don’t fixate too much on the publishing side of things. Do what’s necessary, but try not to obsess over it.

2) Dealing With Criticism. This is an important skill to learn–and it is a skill, and it can be learned. Dealing with criticism–even constructive criticism–is a necessary part of being any kind of artist. Speaking personally, I sometimes have trouble even with praise–but this is something that I’m getting better at over time, with experience and practice, and I can say to you with some authority that even if you’re TERRIBLE at dealing with criticism, you will get better. For me it still always hurts, but dealing with that hurt and reacting in a mature and dignified manner has become easier.

If you’re unsure of how to deal with someone’s reaction to your work, the best response is to say ‘Thank you’ and little more. Do not, whatever you do, critique their critique. This is bad form, and unbecoming. If someone says something that really gets to you, deal with it privately. Print out the review or the comment and tear it up, or throw it in a fire, or scribble on it with crayons–whatever it takes for you to get over that natural hurt reaction. And if in doubt, just walk away. You have no responsibility to respond to anything anyone says about you or your work.

3) Promotion. Do you hate even the thought of this? Me too–or at least, I did to start with. To be honest I’m still not comfortable with it, but I’ve learnt to accept that it’s necessary, and I’m better at dealing with it now than I was two months ago. Here’s the most important thing I’ve learnt to do: admit that I like my own writing, admit that I think it’s good. This is absolutely necessary. If you can already do this, great! You’re well on your way. If you can’t then you’re going to have to work at it until you can. If you come across as hesitant about your work, as disliking what you’ve written, then what are people going to think? If even the person who WROTE it doesn’t like it, why should anyone else? You love what you write, don’t you? You have a passion for the story, the characters, for that really clever line in chapter six you want everyone to see–you have to SHOW this passion and love and enthusiasm to others. I admit, I’m still working on this. But I’m getting better.

Now, one piece of advice that you’ll encounter quite a bit is ‘sell yourself, not your books’. If people like you, they’ll try your books. And that’s what you’re aiming for here–just as you have to admit that your books are great, you also have to accept that they’re not for everyone. So your job, as the author and promoter, is to get as many people as possible to try your books. If they don’t like them, that’s fine–they gave you a chance. That’s all you can ask of people, and that’s really the aim of all promotion, just to expose your books to as many people as possible in the hope that some of them will be interested enough to try a sample or read the blurb, and that out of those interested people at least some will like what they see enough to buy and read and (the ultimate goal) enjoy your book.

So if it bothers you (as it does me), don’t think of it as ‘selling’ your book. Think of it as showing something that you love to other people who might also love it. When you’ve read or watched or played or experienced something great, you want to tell the world about it, right? It’s the same with your book. You love it, other people will love it. Your market IS out there. As an indie author, your job is to find that market.

I’ll close this point with this: It’s fine not to take yourself seriously. But you absolutely must take your books seriously.

4) Networking. There are thousands of other indie authors out there, and most of them are lovely. They are your greatest allies in this venture. We aren’t in competition with each other, the very notion is ridiculous–as if somebody wouldn’t buy your book because they’ve already bought mine. Readers read, and they read a lot, and when they’ve finished one book they want to move on to another.

Kindleboards is a good place to start, if you’re not already there. Find authors, talk to authors, learn from authors. Maybe some will want to buy your book, that’s great, but it’s not why you’re talking to them. Support is necessary. You’ll find it in the indie author community.

5) Pricing. This is a delicate issue around which a lot of debate has sprung up. I can only offer my own perspective on this issue, and I advise you to seek out the opinions of others before you make your decision. With that said, here we go.

Price your first book at 99 cents. I know, I know, it’s worth more than that, you know it, I know it, a lot of the readers know it. But part of your job as an unknown, untested indie author is to break down barriers between your book and potential readers. Price is a barrier. Many people will take a chance on a 99 cent book. There’s an argument that if someone will take a chance on a 99 cent book then they’ll take a chance on a $2.99 book, I don’t agree with this. Maybe for some people that’s true, but you’re trying to reach as many people as possible. For myself personally, $2.99 means I have to make a decision, I have to think about how much money I have and whether I really want to spend it on this book. 99 cents removes that decision; I can always afford to spend 99 cents.

You’re not going to sell a lot in your first few months. Just accept this now and you’ll be happier later. If you manage to sell a dozen in your first month, I’d say you’re doing pretty well. If you manage to sell two dozen in your second month, I’d say you’re well on your way. If you price at $2.99 or higher, I doubt you’ll see these numbers–it’s possible, but far less likely. And right now, you shouldn’t be thinking about money, because you’re not going to be making a lot. Those concerns come later, once your sales have started to pick up. Right now you need exposure, you need as many people as possible to give your book a chance, and pricing at 99 cents is one way to help that.

6) Social Networking. To start, let me tell you what NOT to do: Don’t just join sites to promote your book. There are quite a few authors who use Twitter accounts just to post links to their book’s Amazon page–why would anyone follow them? I think it’s fine to use Twitter to say “Hey, I have a book out, maybe you’d be interested in it?”, but if that’s all you’re doing then why would anyone listen to you? So go on Facebook, go on Twitter, but be interesting and charming and, y’know, yourself, not some zero-personality sellbot. One other thing to keep in mind, too, is that using social networking is kind of a ‘second stage’ thing. It’s good to have a website and a Facebook page and a Twitter feed for when you start getting fans, to give them somewhere to go to follow your progress and talk to each other–but to start off with it’s probably not going to get you many sales. Just enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about ‘selling’.

7) Web Journal. Start one. If you’ve already got one, great! Don’t worry about making it purely focused on writing, although at least mentioning your writing is probably a good idea. Once your books are out put up links–like I’ve got at the side there, see them?–so people can easily see what you’ve written and, if they’re interested, go and download a sample. If for nothing else, having somewhere to vent is great.

8 ) Cover Art. This is important. It shouldn’t be, it’s not fair that it is, but the reality is that a lot of people do judge a book by its cover. If you’re not confident about producing a good cover for your book yourself, you should find someone who can do it for you, or someone who can help you. Covers that use photos will sell better than more abstract covers (like mine, but I just don’t like photo covers), and professional-looking covers WILL increase your sales. Look at the covers of other books in the same genre, see what they’re doing. Many readers will have an ‘image’ of what the cover of, say, a romance will look like. Those naked torsos look ridiculous, but if your book is a romance novel, a naked torso on the cover WILL help with sales.

Since you’re publishing for the Kindle, the thumbnail of your cover becomes important. The title should be easily readable even when shrunk down to thumbnail size, and ideally so should your name.

Don’t use Comic Sans. Don’t use Papyrus. More than anything else these fonts will mark your work as amateurish. Visit dafont.com or a similar site, there are hundreds of great fonts out there that are cheap ($10 or less) or even free, and available to use on commercial projects.

One final point, if you’re using a photo for your cover, make sure that it isn’t already being used on other covers. And, of course, make sure that you have the correct rights to everything you use.

9) Keep Writing. This is more important than anything else. Just keep writing, don’t focus too much on promotion, you’ll just end up exhausted and burnt out and discouraged, because perhaps the most difficult thing about promotion is that hard work does not necessarily equate to success. You could spend an entire day working on promoting yourself and your books and not see a single sale from it, that’s really frustrating and disheartening. Find the balance. For me, right now, I’m only passively promoting, if I see an opportunity I’ll take it, but I’m not out there actively trying to find ways to put my books forward. Instead, I’m focusing on writing (well, editing), and on activities that have solid results–getting out words or editing a hundred pages or working on cover art, or doing research, all of these things that contribute to a publishable book.

So, find that balance. Promotion is important–necessary, how else are people going to find your books?–but the most important thing is doing what you love, which is writing. Right?

Good luck, brave indie. I hope you sell a million books.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Of Writing

 

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