Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reviewing Pro Writing Aid Software

I bit the bullet (cliche) this month and purchased Pro Writing Aid to use as a first round editing tool. It's not perfect, but I'm used to it now and can easily ignore at least half of what it tells me is wrong. Better yet, I can personalize my reports and not have to see certain analysis at all. All editing software, whether a grammar checker or a writing style advisor, has the same problem. That is that software is not capable of understanding context, genre tropes, or the difference in usage when it is in dialog vs. narrative or a flashaback.

If you don't already know grammar, or understand the differences in writing style used between narrative and dialog, or have a good handle on your own voice, you can easily edit your manuscript into mediocrity and boredom. On the other hand, no matter how experienced you are or how many books you've published, you probably have certain style peccadilloes that creep in every time you write. I know I do. Pro Writing Aid helps me address those. It finds every one of them. :)

For example, in my romance novels my characters are always "looking" at each other. There are only so many synonyms for the word "look." When I'm in a hurry to meet a deadline I use the six or seven synonyms over and over again, when I could make the entire experience better by using other body language, or introspection, or other observations than those roving eyes. :)

From time to time I've played around with Autocrit, which provides almost the exact same reporting functionality as Pro Writing Aid. It is highly recommended by a few of my friends. However, the cost to be able to upload an entire novel at once, and as many in a year as I needed, seemed high to me ($12 per month billed annually at $144 per year). It's not outrageous; but given that I wouldn't use more than half of the recommendations, I wavered on purchasing an entire year's membership when I wasn't sure it would be useful.

Pro Writing Aid's full novel upload (unlimited word count) capability is only $35 per year. That appealed to me. I was willing to shell that out even if I only used it once. And the per year fee goes down if you purchase multiple years. I'm waiting to see if I like this for a whole year before I commit to that.

Things I Like About the Pro Writing Aid Software

  • Priority analysis when I upload. The upload and analysis of a 75K novel is plenty fast. Because I'm not an upload each chapter as I go person, I want it to crunch the entire novel and give me result within a few seconds. It does that.
  •  The completed report is divided into 23 categories (e.g., overused words, writing style, sentence length, cliches and redundancies). Instead of showing everything in one document, I can click on the sub-report that's most important to me. It shows the actual sentence(s) and the words are highlighted and tagged with the problem the software identified. This makes it easy for me to do a search in my actual document and make changes.
  • I can personalize my report. I can set rules for it to ignore and the ones to include. My favorite rule to ignore is the number of times I use a pronoun to start a sentence (e.g., She, he, or I). Most of my novels are third person deep point-of-view. That makes for a lot of pronoun use even when writing in active voice.
  • I can create my own rules or define a "house style." One of my favorites here is to create a list of words I know I use too much and be sure it checks for all of them every time. Also I can include words to spell check that are specific to my world building.
  • It has a great user manual which I can download and refer to whenever I forget how something works.

Things That Disappoint Me About the Software

  • They have a really cool downloadable app that can be put into Microsoft Word. It does all the edits with track changes. EXCEPT it is only for Microsoft Word on a PC . I have Microsoft Word on a MAC. Grrrrr! It would be so nice to do all the editing within MS Word instead of having to go back and forth between the report and my Word document.
  • Because I can't get the Word app on my MAC, this means that every time I want to work on editing my document, I have to reload my manuscript and ask Pro Writing Aid to analyze it. Not that this takes a long time. It's just a pain to do it every time.  I would prefer to login and select the already analyzed manuscript report. Then I could continue my editing from where I left off. Why is this important? Because it takes a lot of time to go through all of the edits and make the fixes. In a 75,000 word novel, it can easily take me a week or more of eight-hour days to find and fix everything I want to fix. Having to reload the manuscript every time and click analyze is just two more steps to add each day.

    Of course, if they made the integrated MS Word app available to MACs this second difficulty would be negated. (Hint, Hint, if anyone from Pro Writing Aid comes across this blog).

Other Things Pro Writing Aid Does

There are some other cool add ons that Pro Writing Aid offers in its $35 package, but I haven't used them yet, so I can't comment. Though I anticipate I might use the Google Docs and WordPress plugins in the future.
  • Google Documents add-on
  • WordPress plugin 
  • Writemonkey plugin 
  • Additional reports: Corporate Wording, Pronouns, and more.
For my $35 investment I'm happy with Pro Writing Aid. I will use it before sending my manuscript to my developmental editor and to my beta readers. It's a great tool for a first redraft or self-editing. It cannot however replace a professional editor. I suspect there will be no software to do that in my lifetime.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Setting Realistic Expectations for Sales

This is the final post in an ongoing series about 5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know.  The first five parts of this series are:
It takes Time

This section is excerpted from DIY Publishing by Maggie Lynch, Chapter 1

Many first time authors have the mistaken belief that once their novel or non-fiction book is published readers will flock to buy it. This is a natural expectation because authors spend months, or even years, creating their book. Frequently, authors have received positive feedback on the book. Sometimes the book has finaled in or won writing competitions. All of these are nice, but do not guarantee sales.
Literary and publishing news articles extol the virtues of those few authors who made it big with their first book: Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, John Locke and a few others. This leads to  new authors entering the self-publishing arena with high expectations of sales.
When the expected high sales don’t appear within the first two to three months, the new author becomes despondent. She adds up the sales and realizes all the copies were likely sold to family and friends. In other words, sales did not go beyond her immediate network.  I often hear from authors at this point who had set high expectations not only for themselves, but for those in that network. This leads to several uncomfortable conversations similar to the fictionalized scenario below.

 “How is your book doing?”
She pastes a smile on her face. “Fine. Not as well as I hoped, but it’s doing fine.”
“That’s great. When do we see it made into a movie?”
She struggles not to choke on her strained chuckle. “It won’t be made into a movie. I’m not popular enough for that.”
“Oh.” The friend backs up a step. “When will the next book be out? Have you started it yet?”
“I’m not quite sure when it will be out. It’s moving along.”

It isn’t exactly a lie. She knows what the next book is about…mostly. She has the characters in her head. Just because she hasn’t actually started writing doesn’t mean she’s lying. Right? She’ll start it after she finishes with all this promotion. She’s certain that one more ad, or getting a few more likes on her Facebook page will make a difference. How can she write when she has to do all this selling?
 In the mean time desperation grows. That is when some writers begin investing in advertising, blog tours, nagging friends and other authors for Facebook likes and Amazon reviews. When that fails, the author plans special events that relate to her book. Instead of writing that next book, every writing hour is spent in desperate promotion, or with a nice tub of ice cream and chocolate cake to soothe the depression.
I know one author who spent over a thousand dollars to set up a cooking demonstration in hopes that it would draw people to purchase her unique mystery novel that had a sous chef as the protagonist.  It did help her sell approximately eleven print books that day, among the forty people who attended the demonstration.  Her profit for the day was approximately $40.  However, her expenses were over a thousand dollars to rent the room for several hours, and to purchase all the ingredients needed for the cooking demonstration. In other words, the return on investment was not good.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual occurrence. I have seen authors expend an entire year, or more, trying to sell their first book. When I would ask the author about the next book, the response would usually be: “I’m not going to start the next book until the sales on this one are better. I don’t want to waste my time if my books aren’t going to make money.” This author is counting on that first book to make money and build their audience so that the second book’s sales cycle will be easier.
These same authors spend money on advertising in major magazines and websites, do blog tours, plan special events, and spend all their writing time on social media trying to gain more Twitter friends or Pinterest followers, or any number of other types of fans. By the end of the year they still have only one book written, and find that perhaps they made another $100 for all this effort and expense.
Please do not become one of these authors. This new world of publishing is based on your long game, not your short game. It is one of building word-of-mouth and creating a readership for your next book and your next.   It is not unusual to take three or four years to build a substantial readership and backlist to create the engine you need for making money consistently.
Certainly, some small amount of promotion is needed. However, you cannot promote yourself onto bestseller lists. As an unknown person, without a platform—meaning you are not a celebrity or an expert in the field and already have a following—the odds are stacked against you making it big on your first book or your third or your eighth. This has always been the case. It is not new to self-publishing. Ask the hundreds of mid-list authors in traditional publishing how long it took to make enough money to sustain themselves.
Whether traditionally published or self-published, every new book provides another opportunity for readers to find you and for the word-of-mouth to grow. If readers like one of your books they go back and look at what else you have written and buy those too. In series, some readers won’t buy the books until the entire series is done. With every new book you publish, the totality of sales is higher. With only one book, or even two, you are leaving your career to the one thing you have no control over—luck.

I correspond with a lot of authors who had been published by large New York publishing companies in the past and have now turned to self-publishing. Some have been self-publishing for only a year, others for three or four years. The majority of those authors indicate that it is somewhere between their fifth and eighth published book where they begin to see significant money. That is especially true if the author is writing in a single genre; and may happen even faster when the author completes a series. The best thing you can do with your limited time is to write and publish another book, and another, and another.
If your book doesn’t sell, it could be due to a lot of things: the quality of the writing, the quality of the editing, the price, the cover, the category, the metadata, the time of year it was released.  Or it could be none of these. 
Just as with traditional publishing, some very good books don’t get discovered or don’t sell well. Every editor in New York has books she acquired that she was certain would sell well and didn’t. No one knows why. It just happens. On the other hand, every editor also has at least one book that got away. The one she did not acquire because she thought it was too generic, not well written, or the genre was dead. A few of those books became bestsellers. In the same way a self-published book occasionally becomes a bestseller and surprises everyone, including the author.
What makes a book sell well that everyone turned down? Why did J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel get turned down by so many publishers? Why does a book that every editor loves not sell well? Most people say the answer is luck and timing. Two things you can’t control.
In self-publishing, the things you can control prior to making your book available are the writing, editing, price, cover, metadata, and release schedule of additional books. I will talk about all of these throughout this book. Once a book is published and the public can buy it, the best thing an author can do is to move on and give it time to find its readers. Control what you can, but don’t try to buy luck.
My Sweetwater Canyon series—contemporary romance that borders on women’s fiction—is one example of the time it takes to find a readership. In 2012 I published the first book in the series, Undertones.  I already had two other romance novels in my backlist. Their sales were paltry in spite of ads, book tours, and social media promotion. Each was a stand-alone novel. Undertones had won several writing awards prior to publication.  In spite of wide distribution, I failed to get many reviews. Though the few reviews I did get were good, there simply were not enough for anyone to take notice. When the second book in the series, Healing Notes, came out in 2013, I again did a blog tour and this time half the ads I did before. The second book garnered more reviews, but still not a lot. The reviews were all good.  Interestingly, I began to see more sales, even though I was not doing as much social networking or advertising.
I noticed that when people did purchase the second book they went back and purchased the first in the series as well.  On top of that, some of them also purchased one or both of the previous two titles. My sales from year-to-year tripled. This year, the final two titles in the series are coming out, Heart Strings and Two Voices. Based on what happened with the second book I anticipate sales to be significant for these. However, note that by the time these are released, I will have published a total of six romance titles.
Over the past two years there have been a number of studies undertaken (RWA, Bowker, and Smashwords are some of the most recent studies) to uncover the most lucrative devices to propel a book into higher sales.  Everyone wants to know the secret, including major publishing companies. Making it free? Using Amazon KDP Select? Getting more Facebook likes or Twitter followers? Creating a great book trailer to post on YouTube? Getting pull quotes from your friend, who happens to be a NYT bestselling author? Hiring a public relations firm?
It turns out all of these options have little correlation to sales, and only one (free books downloaded by thousands of readers) had any correlation to discoverability. The only method that has shown any direct correlation to actual book sales is writing and publishing more books—particularly more books within a series or at least in the same genre.  New York Publishers have known this for decades. That is why they have always advised authors to stick to one genre. That is why they like to sign series contracts.  In the past three years, that is also why they will often hold a series back from publication until you have the entire trilogy, or the first three books in the series completed. Then it can be released back-to-back, one a month. This has proven lucrative and gains readers faster.
This is not to say you can only write in one genre, or that you should only write series. However, each decision you make about what to write, how many books to write each year, how many books to release, and how many pen names you use has a potential impact on sales. Each time you release another title it increases your chances for more readers to discover your books.  Every time you release a new title, and someone likes that book, the reader will tell her friends and go back and look for all the other books you have written. Each time that new reader finds books in the genres and styles she likes, it keeps you on her radar for more books. She might even sign up for your newsletter to make sure she always knows what you write next.
If you wrote a book last year, and have spent all your time on promotion, what happens when that reader goes to find another book from you?  The answer is NOTHING happens. And when/if you finally get around to writing that next book a year or two away, that reader has forgotten you and needs to wade through the plethora of available books to find you again.
How many titles do you need to make it big? There is no hard and fast rule. I’ve heard numbers such as eight books or twelve books, but there is no guarantee. I’ve watched some savvy authors not put up any books until they have three or more. This guarantees an instant backlist.  Other authors will put up books one at a time, but only a few months apart. These authors often do not expend any energy on promotion until they have three or more books available. They do not follow the next big idea for how to increase sales. Doing only print? Doing only ebooks? Bundling them together? What about a new social media platform? Tumblr? Instagram? Group blogs? Single blogs? You can drive yourself crazy with this stuff.

Yes! The good news is you don’t have to be a New York Times or USA Today bestseller to make decent money. If you have enough books, and each one is selling a little bit every month, it adds up to good money.  If you can capitalize on reusing the same work—selling print and ebook and audiobook, perhaps a short story too—then the returns are even greater.
I ran a recent forecast spreadsheet for a ten year period with what I considered were very conservative numbers. I looked at an author producing three novels per year at an average word count of 65,000 words. I ran the spreadsheet first with ebook only sales. Then added print sales to the ebook sales, and finally audiobook sales to the ebook sales. It is very encouraging.

Ebook Only. In this scenario, the assumptions are the author is publishing three new ebooks every year for ten years. The spreadsheet assumed the author was selling one ebook per month in the first year. In each subsequent year, the author is selling one ebook per month for each title. The retail price per book is $4.99, and the commission is figured at 65%. This takes into account all the different venues that are lower than Amazon’s current 70% payment.
I can already hear someone saying: “But one of my books doesn’t sell an ebook every month.” Yes, that does happen, but then a different book will sell two or three books that month. The one book per month, per title, is a starting point, and certainly nowhere near bestseller status.
At the end of ten years, this author will have published 30 titles and made a cumulative income of $133,920.  At the ten-year mark, if the author is still only averaging one sale per month for each of those 30 titles her annual income in year ten is $36,781.
Now that is a decent income, and among those thirty titles the author has many more chances for one or more to break out and make even more money. Be aware that under this scenario, the author needed to sell 28 titles before crossing my $30,000 per year threshold.

Ebooks and Print Books. Now let’s capitalize on those same three books per month by not limiting the author to ebook sales only. In the second scenario, the author is selling one ebook per month and one print book per month. This assumes a print book retail price of $15. But after costs to the author, the sales commission averages $3 per book. At the end of ten years, the author has a cumulative income of $257,806 without writing any additional words. And she is is making $70,801 as her annual income in year ten. That should be enough to convince you to always have a print book and an ebook for sale. With this scenario the author crosses over the $30,000 per year mark at 23 books in inventory. That is part way through year seven.

Ebooks, Print Books, and Audio Books. This is maximizing income opportunities with the same number of words. The author is still writing only three books per year. But now she is selling those three books in three different ways. With the same assumptions, each book is selling only one ebook, one print book, and one audio book per month. Now, at ten years the total cumulative income is $367,933.  At the ten-year mark, the annual income is $101,419.  The author crosses over the $30,000 threshold part way through year six at about the 19th book.
This is the long game. This is patience. This is choosing production over promotion. Want to make money faster? Up your production and resell the same words in different formats.
I end here with a great quote from Diana Love, a New York Times bestselling author with both traditionally published books and self-published books. She was responding to an article by Barbara Vey for Publisher’s Weekly, about what happens after the first book is published.

“…rule #1 is “write, write, and write some more.” If content is king in developing a publishing strategy then a connected series is queen, and quality is the foundation for that empire.   One repeated mantra is that Self Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.  Putting out one novella to “test” the SP market is like tossing a baited hook in one corner of a massive lake and assuming you’re going to land on the mother lode of fish the first time.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Distribute Widely

This is the fifth post in an ongoing series about 5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know.  The first four parts of this series are:

Distribute Widely

Excerpted from Chapters 15 and 16 in DIY Publishing by Maggie Lynch

Print Book Distribution
This chapter discusses the two primary distributors of the print-on-demand (POD) books that most self-published authors and small presses use. The POD printing technology is primarily owned and operated by two large companies: Ingram, through its Lightning Source subsidiary; and Amazon, through its CreateSpace subsidiary. I will discuss the pros and cons of working with each company, and illustrate how to add accounts and upload your work at CreateSpace.
In addition to these two large distributors, there are hundreds of other “author services” companies which will format your print book, create a cover, and arrange for POD printing and distribution. There are significant fees associated with these services, and some will additionally take a percentage of each sale. Most of these companies use either Lightning Source or CreateSpace in order to get any type of worldwide distribution.
I highly recommend that you upload directly to Lightning Source (now Ingram Spark for most Indies) or CreateSpace yourself. You will receive the maximum royalty and control over how your titles are loaded and what data is associated with them.
Let’s begin by comparing CreateSpace and Lightning Source. Both are reputable companies that produce library-quality books using a print-on-demand model (i.e., books are printed and shipped to fulfill customer orders). While some services overlap, each company has its strengths and weaknesses. Your preference depends largely on your needs and objectives. In my opinion, the end product is equal between these two sources. In fact, CreateSpace often uses Lighting Source’s POD printers when volume overwhelms its own network. However, there are fans on both sides that will shout from the rooftops that their POD printer is better. Let’s look at the primary differences between the two:
·      Nice array of trim sizes
·      Laminate finish on all covers
·      Paperback only
·      Setup fee is free.
·      Proof copy is your cost for the book. Typical author cost for a 350 page 6 x 9 inch book is approximately $5.00
·      You can make changes and reupload the book any time for free.
·      One time fee for distribution through Ingram and Baker and Taylor is $25.00.

Ingram Spark
·      Wider range of trim sizes
·      Choice of laminate or matte finish on cover
·      Choice of paperback or hard cover
·      Setup fee is $49.00
·      Proof copy cost is the cost of printing the book
·      Change fees range from $10 to $49 depending on the change
·      Author price for a 360 page 6 x 9 inch book is approximately $5.15
·      Fee for distribution through Ingram is $12 per book per year.

The above are the basic setup and distribution costs.  In addition there are other differences that may impact an author’s decision, particularly if you wish to work with a large number of bookstores.
CreateSpace sets the wholesale discount at 20% at the CreateSpace store, 40% at Amazon, and 60% in expanded distribution. Most small bookstores refuse to order print books from Amazon as the actual discount to them is only 25%. Later in this chapter I discuss the math behind expanded distribution and what a self-published author can do work more effectively with bookstores.
Ingram Spark sets the wholesale discount at 55%. Bookstores regularly purchase books from Ingram and have their full catalogs in the store. The normal bookstore is discount is 40% which is what they expect.
CreateSpace does not accept returns. However, Amazon does. Ingram allows authors to determine if they wish to accept returns.  Returns mean that if the book does not sell within a particular period of time the bookseller is able to return it to the publisher for a full refund, minus shipping. If you accept returns and are selling regularly this isn’t a problem because the returns are deducted from your total sales. However, if your book is not selling well and you accept returns you can find yourself in the position of having to purchase those books yourself because your account will be in the negative. I personally do not accept returns.
Time to distribution is dependent on where your book is being distributed. CreateSpace electronically transfers your finalized book information immediately to all Amazon stores you’ve elected. Making your book available in the expanded distribution network takes approximately a month. It appears at Barnes & Noble within a week, but other bookstores take up to a month. That’s because the files are sent to Ingram and Baker & Taylor for loading and then to Lightning Source for POD printing. 
Ingram distribution to all bookstores supported by Ingram appears in the catalog with 24 hours. It appears in Baker & Taylor catalogs within two weeks, and at Amazon usually within one week.
Customer service is also markedly different between the two companies. Ingram is set up to deal with medium to large professional publishing companies. There is an expectation on their part that you’ll understand how to navigate the site, what all the selection options and terms mean, and how to upload a book  without mistakes. As a result, Ingram customer support is slower to respond to individual author difficulties with the system. They respond only by email. There is no phone support. If you are set up as a publisher and have multiple titles, then you can opt to go directly to Ingram Lightning Source (instead of Ingram Spark). You will tlhen have a publisher representative assigned to you who becomes your liaison with the company. Note: With the advent of Ingram Spark which was developed for indie authors, Ingram is slowly getting better every day with their support of individual authors.
CreateSpace, on the other hand, was built with the self-publishing author in mind. It has instant phone and email support 24 hours a day. Is CreateSpace sometimes frustrating to deal with? Sure. Not all reps are created equal. Customer support groups have a diversity of talent and people skills among the staff.
Given my analysis of both companies, I’ve chosen to use CreateSpace for uploading direct to all Amazon companies. And use Ingram Spark for expanded distribution. This seems to be the best of both worlds. I purchase personal copies at CreateSpace because it is less expensive for me. (Note: This would probably not be true for those who live outside of the U.S.). If at a later date I am selling significantly larger numbers of books, then I may switch to Lightning Source who can also do offset printing in quantity. To sufficiently decrease the unit cost of books, I’ve calculated it requires a minimum order of 1,500 books to do offset printing.
Even with all the above steps to make sure bookstores can get the maximum discount (40%) and use their usual catalog services (Ingram), the majority of bookstores will not order my books except when specifically asked by a customer.  However, I know many New York traditionally published authors who also cannot get their work on local bookstore shelves. The reality is that there are far too many books for any bookstore to stock them all. With shipping within 2-3 days for any book, it doesn’t make sense for bookstores to carry everything.
This is where forming relationships with bookstores makes a difference. Many stores like to carry titles by local authors, or authors who have a tie to the area.  Bookstores where I live typically agree to carry two to five of my books at a 40 % discount rate.
For authors who are new in the market, or the sales are unknown, some stores will take self-published books on consignment. This means they agree to carry the books for a specified period of time and at a specified discount (e.g., 40%). If the books sell within that period of time you are paid for those sales. If they do not, you must take them back and the stores is unlikely to provide shelf space for that title in the future.
I began selling my indie published books on consignment—at first through in-person signings and store events, then through cold calls. Once a title proved to sell regularly every month, the bookstore will take me off consignment and purchase the books directly from me or Ingram. This resolves the issue bookstores have of ordering from an Amazon affiliated company, or for the limited discount offered. For local stores I simply replenish their stock as needed, driving to deliver the books in person, signing the stock, and reconnecting with the owners. For stores that are not local and pay me in advance, I drop ship the books from CreateSpace to their store.  When I’m in the area I always stop by to sign stock. For bookstores out of the country or in areas where I am unlikely to visit, they order direct from Ingram.
To summarize, CreateSpace and Lightning Source/Ingram are the two largest POD printers and distributors. There are other smaller, independent companies that will handle print formatting and distribution for you, as well as other author services for a fee. Some of these companies are excellent partners. Many of them are not.
Should you decide to use an author services company instead of doing it yourself, be sure to investigate the company carefully. Unfortunately, there are many companies that take advantage of unwary authors and charge outrageous fees for little benefit and no guarantee of getting your books anywhere.

As I said earlier, 70% of my print sales come from my relationships with bookstores. Because of that I definitely believe it is worthwhile to undertake direct print distribution. This means I purchase books from CreateSpace at my cost and then deliver them to booksellers based on their orders. I do this in two ways. For local bookstores, I keep an inventory of my books at my house. I then deliver them in batches of four or five as their stock depletes and they order more. For bookstores that are not local, I again purchase the books from CreateSpace at my cost. Then I drop ship them to the bookseller. Depending on volume, the bookseller may pay for shipping.
This scenario requires two elements: a bookseller discount of at least 40%; and a relationship built on proof that your books can sell and that you can be counted on to deliver on time.  The discount is the minimum I’ve found that is acceptable to booksellers and allows them to make a profit. The relationships are built one store at a time. Once you have five or six stores working with you, it expands more quickly. Booksellers belong to organizations. They talk among themselves about authors they like, and authors they don’t. If you’ve been a part of helping a bookstore succeed it will get passed to others and then those stores will contact you.
Working one-on-one with booksellers also means we can plan special events together. I can partner with them on sales and promotion. The more I do to help them, the more they do to help me. It is a win-win scenario.
There is a downside to this arrangement. The more stores you supply, the  more time consuming order fulfillment, event planning, and promotion becomes. Also, this is not something you can do when you feel like it. Nor is it something you can put off because you are on deadline to get the next book out and will be hiding in your writing cave for a month. Booksellers expect to receive a book within three days of ordering. This means you need to be on top of orders and fulfillment every day, not once a week or once a month.
By this time, it would be natural to wonder why bother with print books at all. For me there are several reasons.
       1.         Some readers prefer print and being able to satisfy them is important to me.
       2.         Many reviewers, bloggers, librarians, and bookstores take you more seriously if you have a print edition available.
       3.         When the print book is listed on Amazon, the cost of the ebook next to it looks like a great bargain. My $4.95 ebook is a good deal next to the $14.00 print book.
       4.         If you enjoy book signings, you need a book to sign.
       5.         If a book takes off, your print need will go up. If you reach bestseller status, both booksellers and librarians will be purchasing books in high enough numbers to get free shipping and realize some profit—even on POD. 

Finally, I admit I love having a print book to hold in my hand. Though I read ebooks almost exclusively, I do pay for print books on occasion. What is more special than your own book?

Pricing. It is important to first erase the comparison of trade paperback to mass market. They are not the same product nor are the printing costs the same. Mass market is printed in lots beginning at about 10,000 units. That is how the price is kept low. Trade Paperback for most independent writers is printed on demand, one at a time. 
Instead compare your price to book to New York trade paperback books. The list price for most trade paperbacks falls between $13.95 and $17.95. Do not look at the sale price on Amazon. Compare the list prices. Should you charge the same price as a bestseller? Probably not; you don’t have the following. Aim for a couple dollars under trade paperback book pricing in your genre. Charge enough to make at least $2.00 per book.
Pricing low is making a statement about how you value your work. You are saying that your book is not as good as those from New York. If you believe that, then your book is not ready to be sold. If you know your book is ready and it is comparable to the average traditionally published book, then don’t price low out of fear. Price based on value—a comparable value to other trade paperback books in your genre. 
Finally, determine what your expectations are for your print book. If all you want is something to show your family and friends, and perhaps take to a bookstore signing. Then don’t do expanded distribution at all.  This means your print book will only be available through Amazon and their companies. However, you can still purchase your own books through CreateSpace and take them to book signings on a consignment basis. For many authors this is enough and you can price lower because you are not doing expanded distribution.
Personally, I like options for worldwide distribution. I don’t like limiting my print distribution to one vendor. I also adore bookstores and want to support them as much as possible. But those are my choices. Do what is right for you, your goals and values, and your economic philosophy.

Ebook Distribution

Unlike print books where the majority of POD printing is handled by only two vendors, ebooks have a plethora of distribution options. In fact, it seems that a new vendor pops up weekly.
This chapter discusses the variety of distribution channels available to the self-published author. I will illustrate how to add accounts and upload your work at the following large distributors, and discuss the options each offers.
·      Amazon
·      Barnes & Noble
·      Kobo
·      Apple

In addition to these large distributors, there are hundreds of other possibilities. Some are genre specific such as ARe (All Romance ebooks), while others are simply e-commerce portals that purport to offer better discoverability than the large distribution options. I will also cover options that are not available for direct upload but can be accessed through aggregators—a type of middleman distributor that feeds products to larger companies (e.g., Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Sony, etc.).
In my opinion, the only reason to use a middleman for distribution is if that entity has access to markets you do not. For example, Sony only allows larger publishers to upload direct. In order to upload directly to Sony you must have a minimum of 110 titles. It is unlikely that most self-publishing authors will meet that criterion. In order to reach Sony’s market, you would need to use a middleman distributor.
Other distributors also have minimums or other access restrictions. For example, Overdrive (the leading library distributor for lending ebooks) requires a minimum of five titles before you can upload direct. Apple requires that all titles be uploaded from an Apple computer. If you don’t have one, you either have to find a friend who will do it for you or go through a middleman or other service to have access.
Some authors believe the percentage a middleman takes (ranging from 5-25% depending on the company) is worth it. These authors don’t want to take the time to upload to each distributor or to monitor sales at each distributor. They prefer to have a person or company handle it centrally and report combined sales. Personally, I prefer the control I have over distribution channels. Things tend to be processed more quickly from direct loads than from a middleman company, and I can track where I’ve made changes and where I haven’t. I don’t like giving up another percentage to yet another company.
You can determine what works best for you and what you are willing to pay for convenience. If you do decide to use a middleman, make sure you know the contract terms, understand the payment schedules, and have a complete detailing of all fees and percentages the company takes from your sales.

Each vendor offers different options for distributing your ebook. It is important to understand these differences, their markets, and to make informed choices. Only one vendor, Amazon, provides certain options that require the author to only use Amazon for distribution.
Finding good statistics on the market share for each of these distribution vendors is difficult. That is, in part, because it changes all the time. The appearance of a new company in the market also changes the dynamics of sales.  Some newer players, like Kobo,  are adding many new distribution points every year, while others are falling faster than ever. This year Barnes and Noble went from three countries back to two. However, that doesn’t mean you should write off any companies quite yet. New leadership, new vision, and new direction can turn them around.
Also, ebook market share statistics are reported in different ways. For example, some surveys rate ebook market share by the number of devices sold (e.g., ereaders, tablets, phones) by a vendor. In this scenario, Apple wins every time because it has sold the largest number of devices worldwide. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Apple is selling the greatest number of ebooks. Other surveys rate market share by the number of titles downloaded from a company’s e-store. That makes sense, except that many companies do not offer this information in formal reporting. For example, though Amazon provides annual public reporting of its profits and losses, it does not break out ebooks as a line item to be evaluated. In fact, the sales of ebooks is a minor part of their entire product sales portfolio. This means that those statistics are gathered from a limited number of resources (e.g., Commercial Publishers and Bowker), and that self-published titles that do not use an ISBN are not counted anywhere. Other statistics are gathered from aggregators like Smashwords. This provides insight into a certain number of self-published titles, but the revenue numbers are skewed to those formats distributed via Smashwords. For example, most authors do not distribute to Amazon via Smashwords. Others only use Smashwords to distribute to Apple.
Ebook companies keep their numbers very close and report them only in press releases that interpret the data in their favor.  An organization like Bowker can only report on the ebooks which have an ISBN. The Wall Street Journal reports on apps used to download books. Publisher’s Weekly can only report on those ebooks that are reported to data resources primarily in commercial publishing. Amazon does not report, which means that numbers related to Amazon may be skewed based on “best guesses.” 

Certain upload requirements are common across all vendors. They all need metadata that describes the book. They all need regional pricing. You, as the author, must determine in which of the global markets your book should be sold. Each vendor offers different payments for books based on different rules. This may impact your pricing decisions. Finally, the vendors require you to upload your ebook file in a format that each of their different ereading devices can recognize and render effectively. Different vendors have specific restrictions on how well your file must be formatted to be accepted.


An aggregator is a company who acts as a middle-man to distribute your books to numerous vendors. Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital are the two most common aggregators used by indie authors because there is no fee to upload, and the fees they take for distribution are not too large—Smashwords (10%), Draft 2 Digital (15%).
There are also many others like Book Baby and Vearsa that have even wider reach. But these come at a higher cost either in per book set up or in a monthly fee arrangement. The trade off with companies like Book Baby and Vearsa is that you get wider reach, often to thousands of vendors around the world instead of to a selected five or ten.
All of these aggregator companies are happy to distribute to the big 5 vendors mentioned above. Each also regularly adds additional vendors as possibilities for distribution. These might include subscription services like ScribD and Oyster, or library services like Overdrive and 3M Cloud. They also tend to get contracts into foreign country-specific vendors like Flipkart in India or Weltbuilt in Germany.
The ease of using an aggregator is appealing. It allows you to load one or two files to them and then they put those files everywhere else for you. They also report all sales in one place for you. Of course, there is a cost for this and you need to determine if that cost is worth it.
The other downside to using an aggregator for the big five vendors, is that it also gives you little access to sales and promotional opportunities offered by each company. For example, Kobo has several opportunities for being featured as a debut author, a series author, or for a book you have discounted or made free. However, those opportunities are only available to you if you are loading direct. They are not available if you are using an aggregator who is distributing to Kobo for you. The same is true of Apple. 
In other instances, there are markets that you can only get with an Aggregator. That’s because those markets are set up primarily for large publishing companies to access with large datasets of books and information. Your decisions on when to engage an aggregator and which one need to be considered carefully based on your career plan, your book sales, and your income.


There are several classes coming up with All Writer Workshops that deal specifically with Distribution.  You may want to look at these and decide which ones will be most helpful to you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Think Like a Publisher

This is the fourth post in an ongoing series about 5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know.  The first three parts of this series are:
You wrote a book. You published it yourself by loading it to at least one vendor. You are now, officially, a publisher. That also means you are now a business and the CEO of your own company.  But what does that mean? What is the difference between thinking like a publisher and thinking like an author?

Product, not Art – Publishers think of books/stories as products to sell—not art, not necessarily even unique creative works. Publishers make decisions on which books to acquire, or to feature, or to put at the front of the list based on market research and what is most likely to sell. This is probably the most difficult part of thinking like a publisher instead of an author. Most authors have an intimate relationship with their book. They’ve worked long hours, struggled with their characters, and often feel as if the people and the story they created is close to real.

Though publishers love when a book makes readers feel and crave to know what happens next. Publishers think of it only as a sales technique to make more profit. There is no emotional attachment to a particular book. All books are equal until one appears to be more equal because it is selling better or hits a trend. Then investment goes to that book without thought of attachment or it “deserving” to have investment.

Publisher Platform – A publisher has a platform designed to feature multiple books and the relationship between them. This platform may also have a theme (e.g., romance publishing, thriller publishing) or it may be multiple genre.  The platform is focused on selling books more than featuring authors.  An author is featured only if it means it will sell more books. The platform it is optimized to show books in a variety of ways that entice readers to buy more. It is focused on ease-of-use and the quickest way to get a reader from look at a book to a purchase.

Authors often focus their websites or personal efforts on making friends with readers, sharing their lives, engaging in social media to become a “friend” or to gain “fans.” Publishers only use those techniques if it gains sales. That is not to say that an author needs to sell, sell, sell all the time. But with your publisher hat it does mean that everything revolves around the best way to get product out the door and sold.

Focus on Follow-on Content – Publishers think about what the follow-up is going to be to each product they publish. This is why publishers want authors to write series, to never change genres, to be prolific. With your publisher hat on, you need to ask yourself the same questions. If you are dithering between writing another romance with the characters of your last novel or starting that mystery series you’ve been dying to get to, your publisher-self would say write another romance.

You can certainly do more than one genre. But your publisher-self would say that means you have to write more faster. You can’t do one book a year and have a romance one year and a mystery the next year and expect to sell product regularly. There is too much competition for reader dollars. There is too much expectation to see more than one book a year by an author. And if it is only one book a year, then it better be similar to or related to the book of last year.

Reuse, Recycle, Repackage – A publisher wants to maximize the intellectual property it owns. That means if you can reuse the same words in other packges then you should do so and quickly. Can you get a short story out of your novel and send it to a magazine or make it a free or 99 cent entry into your novel world? Can you take three short stories and put them into a trio in one book and resell that? Can you take your entire trilogy and package it together to get even more eyes on those books? Can you do a themed anthology or a collection of your works as a package, or partner with other writers in your genre to do a package deal? 

All of these opportunities are the way a publisher would think of content. A book is simply a collection of content. In the technological world, breaking part or adding to that content is easy. The more ways you can sell the same content, the more money you make out of that property.

Target Markets – Publishers do not put books into the world and simply hope for the best. They study markets, they plan releases, they target advertising to specific demographics of people that have proven to like those types of books. Publishers are constantly keeping on top of markets, demographics, trends, news, and events that will impact their sales. When you think like a publisher you have to do this too.

Know Your Business Vision and Mission – A publisher would never consider putting a product up for sale without having a business plan. That business plan includes determining where that title fits in the publisher’s vision and mission. What money should be put behind that title. What kind of marketing or PR effort is worthy of that title. And how will this title build on previous titles or jump start new titles.

Not all titles are created equal in the publisher mindset. Not all titles get the same push, the same budget, or the same effort. Can you do that with your books?

Make Objective Decisions About Next Steps – A publisher is always measuring the effort, expense, and returns for every product it produces. New things might be tried (e.g., an FB ad campaign instead of a blog tour, or a virtual book launch instead of a physical book launch). Every thing is evaluated and studied in order to make decisions moving forward.

In order to think like a publisher, you must have at least an annual plan for title development and preferably a three to five year plan. Every six months to a year you will evaluate how each of those titles did, as well as related titles. What you learn in that evaluation should inform what you will do in the next year. Will you release more titles or less? Will you spend more or less money on advertising or marketing? Will you write shorter books or longer books? What does the objective analysis suggest?


There are several business classes for the career author offered through All WriterWorkshops. These classes step you through thinking like a publisher and taking better control of your writing and your career. Check these out.

A great resource book to help you put on your Publisher hat and execute your business plan is by Dean Wesley Smith, multi-published and bestselling author as well as an owner of several previous small press publishing ventures.

Think Like a Publisher: A step-by-step guide by Dean Wesley Smith

This book takes you through every step from getting a business license, to basic accounting and tax preparation, deciding what kind of publisher you want to be, and then stepping into that world. It is short (about 112 pages) but full of important information you won’t find anywhere else.