Play It Forward – Where Next For MWiDP?

Pay It Forward.

How often do we hear that in the world of indie publishing? It has become the mantra of the indie movement, to the point where recently some bloggers were actually arguing over who thought of it first! The mind boggles.

Menander

In fact the concept has been about since forever. It was in use by the Greek dramatist Menander in 317BC, and the first recorded example in the US was Benjamin Franklin, who lent money to someone and asked them not to repay Franklin but to instead lend that money to another person in need. Similar sentiments were later echoed by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The actual term was in use from the early part of the twentieth century, and became popularised by Robert A. Heinlein’s sci-fi classic Between Planets.

But of course the phrase took on a life of its own after Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel Pay It Forward was published in 1999. The film quickly followed. A movement was born. A decade on and the Pay It Forward movement is still going strong, guided by the Pay It Forward Foundation Catherine founded.

What does this have to do with MWiDP? Bear with me. There are two big announcements from MWiDP today.

~

First, some background for the many newer visitors here.

When we slipped our debut novel Sugar & Spice into the murky waters of the Amazon ocean fifteen months ago it was, more than anything else, an act of defiance against the gatekeepers. Not so much desperation as sheer frustration.

There was no carefully thought out marketing plan. No launch party. No blogs. No tweets. It was whole new world, and one we knew next to nothing about.

Ebooks were still in their infancy, Kindle UK was about to experience its very first Christmas, and we just sat back and hoped someone might buy our unknown and unloved book.

Of course, no-one did.

This time last year we had sold nothing. And we were still querying. It seemed our best bet at the time. And maybe, at the time, it was.

And then around February / March we got the serious interest of an agent. A real-life literary agent wanted our book! By then it was just starting to sell a few copies on Amazon, but the agent wasn’t interested in that. She liked the book, but ebooks were just a fad. So the agent took our book under exclusive review, and we sat and hoped.

Three months passed. When she finally got back to us with her decision she wanted us to take down the ebook so she could approach publishers.

That was a close call. If she’d got back to us sooner we might well have fallen for it.

Trouble was, in that three months she had sat on our novel we had somehow sold thirty thousand books. Ebooks a fad? Clearly this was an agent who had no future. And, we realised, querying had no future either.

A month on and we had sold fifty thousand and were the second biggest-selling ebook in the country. The agents started to query us!

Again it was a close call. Big promises, tempting “unofficial” offers, but accompanied by draconian contract conditions. We stayed indie.

Regrets?

You’ve got to be kidding! That same book went on to sell another fifty thousand before it began to wind down on Amazon (not helped by the infamous three week disappearance!). And by then we were riding high in Waterstone’s, the UK’s equivalent of B&N.

Meanwhile we had brought out another book, got on with some other writing projects, and began to look at the bigger picture.

MWiDP was born.

Little could we have imagined that, just months later, we’d have one of the biggest names in modern English literature sign with us.

~

The big news this week, of course, is the announcement, first made on Anne R. Allen’s blog on Sunday, that Anne and NYT best-selling author of Pay It Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde turned their back on the trad publishers in favour of joining forces with MWiDP.

In Anne’s own words:

The book I’ve been writing with Catherine Ryan Hyde, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE—and keep your E-sanity! will be published by Mark Williams international in June of 2012. The book will be available as an ebook that will include free six-month updates. AND it will also be available in paper in both a US and UK edition.

We’ve had some interest from more traditional publishers, but decided to go with the innovative people at MWiDP because we need a nimble publisher who can keep up with industry changes and offer timely updates. Also, Catherine has a large international fan base, which made “Mr. International’s” offer especially attractive.

The fab cover is the working design, courtesy of our designer in residence Athanasios.

How To Write in the E-Age and Keep Your E-Sanity will be the first of many books under our non-fiction / education imprint Writers Without Frontiers, aimed at fellow authors, at whatever stage of their career they are at.

As well as more books for this imprint we’ll also be teaming up with other industry professionals to bring online writing courses and other resources to help the growing number of people worldwide who want to realize their dreams of being a writer.

And just to add there will be a prize draw in June to mark the launch of How to be a Writer in the E-Age. And not just any old prize.

We’re talking a first edition of the zillion-selling Pay It Forward, signed by Catherine Ryan Hide herself!

~

Yep, I had to read it twice too. Catherine Ryan Hyde is now an MWiDP author!

~

Writers Without Frontiers is just one of several imprints that will see MWiDP expand rapidly in 2012.

Our YA imprint will launch this spring, commencing with the long-awaited St. Mallory’s series, and though it’s not official yet we may well have another fantastic YA title going live with it. More on that in the near future.

We have some great titles pending for our Exotica imprint, all about travel and stories set in distant lands.

And for those so inclined we have also launched our mature-audience imprint, Aphrodysia, with the first book due out for St. Valentine’s Day.

Those not so inclined will be pleased to know covers and content will not be appearing alongside the other books, unlike on Amazon where some seriously disturbing covers are prone to pop up alongside MG titles.

Several other imprint ideas are being developed, which we’ll bring news of all as and when.

~

Enhanced ebooks are of course high on our agenda to progress, and we’ll be making some announcements on this in the next few months. We have some trial projects under way, but won’t give details until we have a clearer picture.

We also have plans for audio books, and are currently examining ways in which this can work in the new indie publishing world. More on this in coming weeks.

In the very near future we’ll be moving into print-on-demand publishing for some of our titles. While there can be no doubt the days of bricks and mortar stores are numbered, there will be a small but significant market for print for the foreseeable future, and as POD technology improves and prices drop, POD will become the only real alternative to ebooks.

Meanwhile our tech team Elizabeth (she may only be one person, but she does the work of many!) has been hard at it behind the scenes with the new websites and the ebook store. All now very close to completion.

Take a sneak peak at www.mwidp.com.

~

The ebook store, indiebooksunited, is hardly going to challenge Amazon’s supremacy, of course, so important to remind ourselves why we felt it necessary at all.

I asked an author recently if they would be interested in the ebook store and they answered, “Why? I’m selling through Amazon.” I put it to him he might sell even more if he was in other stores. He answered, “But I don’t need to be. I’ve ticked world rights. I’m available everywhere.” I tried not to laugh.

For anyone who missed it, do check out the MWi post Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Aakash  which explains how Amazon either blocks downloads or surcharges buyers across much of the world.

Above is a screen shot of what I see when I try to buy one of your books. Check out the green box at top right. (You may need to click on the image to enlarge.)

Check out the MWi post referred to above for real numbers about just how many potential buyers cannot buy your ebook from Amazon.

There’s also this strange idea that someone who has bought a Kobo ereader, or a Sony or an iRiver, or myriad other alternatives to the Kindle, is somehow going to make Amazon their first stop for ebooks. Yeah, right. Just like us Kindle users always go shopping in B&N and Diesel…

~

The recent introduction of KDP Select has raised the issue of exclusivity once again. Leaving aside the good or bad aspects of KDP Select itself, let us briefly ponder exclusivity.

If we had chosen only to list with Amazon last year would we have sold as many books? Unequivocally no.

Of course we are on Apple, Kobo and B&N too. Kobo is a rising star, as I’ve said many times here on MWi. Just this week Kobo announced plans for expansion to ten new countries, including Japan and Brazil, just as the Amazon’s Japan plans have stalled.

Kobo has also partnered with WH Smiths, one of the leading UK retail stores. Kobo is the place to be in 2012-15.

If you’re not on Kobo, or are on Kobo through Smashwords and seeing no results, then be sure to check out the announcement at the end of this post.

But Amazon, B&N, Apple and Kobo are not the be all and end all of ebook vendors, and only form part of our income.

In the latter part of 2011, long after the Amazon star had waned, we had two top ten hits simultaneously in Waterstone’s, the UK’s equivalent of B&N. We held the number two spot, kept off #1 only by the Steve Jobs biography, and for a long while the Saffina Desforges brand was the most searched for name in the store.

But we weren’t just selling there. Britain’s biggest retailer by far is the supermarket giant Tesco. It has its own e-book store.

Guess what? We’re in it.

Foyles? Yep, you’ll find us there.

Books, etc? Yeah, we’re there too.

Pickabook? Of course.

ACCO in Belgium? We used our “leetle grey cells”!

Selexyz in the Netherlands? We love the Dutch!

Fishpond down in New Zealand? Say hi down under!

Kalahari in South Africa? Of course!

I could go on. Our books will soon be appearing in Textr in Germany, Asia Books in Thailand, Eason’s in Ireland, Buscalibros in Chile, etc, etc. I’m not called Mr International for nothing!

There’s a whole world out there that could be reading your ebooks, if only they had the chance. True, the sales aren’t earth-shattering. But a sale is a sale, and that reader may tell a friend who tells a friend…

And sometimes it can be good to be a big fish in a small pond, as we found with Waterstone’s. Next time it could be you. But not if you’re not listed there.

Of course the problem is these stores aren’t indie friendly. Just the opposite. They make it almost impossible to get in. ISBNs are required pretty much everywhere except Amazon and B&N. That includes Apple and Kobo, which is why most people go through Smashwords.

But Smashwords won’t get you into Waterstone’s or Foyles, Fishpond or Kalahari. And apart from ISBNs there are a ton of other conditions to meet and hoops to jump through too, before these companies will even think of listing your title. For example Waterstone’s insist you are a VAT-registered company to set up an account.  For the US readers that means having an annual turnover of about $100k. Then you face the nightmare of keeping track, receiving payments, etc. It’s not easy.

Which brings us to the second big announcement of the day:

MWiDP can now offer your titles direct listings to these stores, and also Apple and Kobo.

We’ll be contacting you all shortly with further details. For anyone not currently with us who wants to know more, just drop me an email.

We hope to start uploading to Waterstone’s by the end of this month, and just in case you’re wondering how anyone will find you there, we’re delighted to tell you we have advanced promotion in hand. We own the domain name http://www.welovewaterstones.com and will be launching a big awareness campaign within the UK this spring aimed at bringing attention to your titles.

Oh, and did I mention we accidentally bought the domain names welovekoboebooks, welovetescoebooks, welovefishpondebooks and welovekalahariebooks too? 🙂

So, even though it may have seemed nothing much was happening, we have been busy behind the scenes. I’ll be elaborating on the various projects in more detail over the coming weeks here on MWi.

I’ll also be introducing the Book Theatre project to find narrators for audio books for your novels, and the Translator’s Co-op project to bring together a pool of novel translators worldwide to help get your books selling not just in the international stores, but in the local languages.

The trad publishers will tell you writers still need them because they can get you places you can’t get on your own. They have a point. Once you step outside the Amazon bubble being indie isn’t easy.

But with MWiDP you’re not on your own.  Many of our authors are already busy exchanging ideas and services. It’s all part of the cloud.

With MWiDP you get all the benefits of being indie but a lot less DIY.

Mark & Saffi

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  1. Wheeeeeoooooo! *jumps up and down and does silly cheer dance*
    MWiDP really has gone from strength to strength, hasn’t it? Love this post – so inspirational, and all real too! It’s brilliant!
    Speaking of St Mall’s …. chapters impending, I promise! xD

  2. You are NOT normal, Charley R. And I don’t mean the silly cheer dance. That’s cool!

    I mean how can you receive, read and comment on my post before I’ve taken my finger off the publish button?!

    • She’s a teen born in the internet Age Mr. Mark, they have skills us older folks can only dream of. :}

        • Miriam Joy
        • January 20th, 2012

        Indeed we do. Unfortunately my skills get lost in my email inbox, which is full of blog posts I should have read by now.

  3. All of this was going on behind your modest e-mail persona? Unbelievable! It sound like a win win for anyone who wants the protective balm of your umbrella.

    I will digest all of the info on your blog and do a lot of thinking.

    Thanks.

  4. Very interesting, Mark. You continue to do the work of ten men. I’m beginning to think that you may have cloned yourself (several times).

    Fascinating stuff, I linked to it today. I’m especially interested in what you are doing on the distribution side (and the ebookstore), and I will email you about it.

    • Thanks, Dave!

      But it’s Saffi that does all the work. I just laze about on the beach all day. Or so she tells everyone. 🙂

      • I have proof! 😉

        Hey, we are a team. That’s why what the cloud theory is all about. We nicked it off CRH! Pay it forward! 😉

  5. Wow, Mark. You have been busy. I will be looking into publishing in UK/europe with you again. I am only in Amazon at the mo but would love to be in Waterstones and Tesco. It will probably make things easier for me (and you) coz I have a UK bank account and NI number.

    I am especially interested in your audio book project. I have been scouring the internet to find a company that can turn my books into audio books, but they charge thousands and have their own people narrate it. But I want to narrate my book myself.

    I recorded my 1st book for fun after so many people said they would love to hear me read it for them. I uploaded it as a series of podcasts (so it’s free) and to my utter amazement I’ve had tens of thousands listen to it. I have no intention of giving the other away for free but have lots of people ask me if the audio book is available for the 2nd book.

    It would be so cool if you could upload it to a company like createspace (who do indie music but not audio books ?!?!) But you can’t so I knew that some savvy person would take up the reins on that at some point. So excited to hear you are thinking about it.

    PS I would be interested in narrating if you are still in the ‘looking for people’ stage.

    • Fantastic, Alison! We envisage a big future for audio, but as you say, doing it the old way costs crazy money.

      But then, so did publishing a book. just because something is ridiculously expensive doesn’t mean it needs to be. Our Book Theatre project aims to prove that.

      I’ll be in contact shortly to follow up on all counts!

      Thanks for joining us!

  6. We all knew 2012 was going to be good and it’s even better. Well done you, for following the vision and making it come true: Books everywhere and affordable for everyone. Beautiful.

    Love and thanks 🙂

  7. Gah, I didn’t read this in full, because I did that over on Saffi’s blog with a poetic comment, which means this is seriously inspiring, I only write poety with the muse pounces on me and boy did she pounce! Gosh this is so exciting I have to shake the excited jiggles from my hands so I can type… You’ll take Fantasy and Sci-Fi right? *giggles*

    Okay Okay, I would also like to step forward and offer my voice services (even though I have no idea what I’d signing up for). I love reading books to kids and breathing life into them. In fact that was my Speach Team specialty in High School. I won a blue ribbon for reading Leo the Lop.

    :} Cathryn

  8. Wow, this is amazing. I would love to become involved. I’m not exactly ready on the ebook front yet, but I could do voice work. I studied acting and singing in college. I’ve performed on stage and for recordings. I’ve written for stage as well. Most of those have been handled as hobbies, things I did on the side while making sure bills were getting paid and all the other reasons that scared and insecure creative and performing types of people often use.

    My husband is great for voice work too. I’ve always pulled him in at every opportunity (he’s uncomfortable on stage without an instrument between him and the audience so it’s never easy to convince him to participate there as it is for recordings). Which, made me think of something. While music isn’t commonlyneededfor such things, you never know when it’s use wouldbe an enhancement. He’d probably be up for helping in that area if you needed it. His primary instrument is the guitar, but he also plays many other instruments to various levels of skill and experience, including, but not limited to: flute, bagpipes,piccolo, piano/keyboard, drums,and bass. Oh, and he not only reads sheet music but can compose on it for nearly all instruments.

    Please email me about becoming more involved with you, whether in ebook distribution or voice needs or more. (randirogue@gmail.com)

    Thanks for leading and inspiring the indie movement as you do. Please forgive weird typos or odd word usage; I’m not very adept at typing on my iPad yet and the autocorrect choices it makes (and I miss) because of that can be shameful to me. But, well, practice will make that better… I hope.

    • Thanks, Randi!

      For enhanced children’s books, especially, the music and accompaniments are going to have big role in the future, no doubt with the new Apple software leading the way.

      We’ll be in touch!

      • What Mark means is: Saffi is currently trying to get to grips with iBooks Author as we type and we’d LOVE to lead the way in all things interactive! 😉

        • Hehe. I plan on playing with it myself to keep me occupied while my novel is out to betas and editors. I just downloaded it now, actually.

          Also, I noticed a couple people talking about the importance of using a top notch recording house. Well, while I in no way discount the importance of professional quality, I do suggest that audio/video production can be viewed much the same was as indie publishing. Just because someone isn’t part of a big production house doesn’t mean they cannot produce high-quality product in a timely and professional manner.

          Current audio/video technology is very accessible to home based studios centered around home computers, even laptops (though, usually Mac). The professional gear is in more hands of audio aficionados than it seems (and is often more regularly maintained since these people treasure these items more than the employees of the production house value their employers property). The professional software, such as ProTools, iLogic Pro, and Final Cut Pro, are easily attainable and not difficult to learn and master as well.

          Like with writers who have been rejected by the traditional publishing industry and have instead become part of the indie revolution, talented people with professional quality audio/video skills are readily out there and eager to work on interesting projects even if they haven’t managed to eke out employment at a big production house.

          So, don’t completely rule out an independent talent in this arena. The quality of their work can be viewed in samples just as can be done for an indie or self-published author.

          At the same time… I don’t have a lot of suggestions on how to find them. ~_~ooo

          • “At the same time… I don’t have a lot of suggestions on how to find them.”

            That’s where the Book Theater project comes in, Randi!

  9. I’m so jazzed to be part of all this! Zoooooom…

  10. ACK!!!!

    I’m overhauling all of the sites this weekend! I’m not ready for public viewing…
    But here’s what’s coming:
    Mwidp.com
    – explanation of the various publishing programs we have available
    – application process to streamline file transfers etc (that’s more in house efficiency)
    – interface and private space JUST for MWiDP authors to know what’s coming before it’s announced, work on marketing together, etc.

    Indiebooksunited.com

    A place for READERS and AUTHORS to mingle. All mwidp authors will be encouraged to guest post OFTEN. It will also reach out to other authors not with MWiDP yet. One thing I’ve learned in this crazy indie publishing world is if you can’t find anyone to give you a marketing opportunity, make one yourself. Indiebooksunited.com will be a big piece of the Ebook Blog Cuise coming in March.

    • Hey, it’s a sneak-peek, we KNOW what is coming. We just wanted everyone else to know what they’re in for! (and to show off your many talents!)

      Won’t indiEbooksunited.com be a GREAT place?

      Instead of it being the “Mark & Saffi show” with constant harping about hits and how many books we’ve sold (we’ll reserve that for my second blog) it’ll be a site for the people who pay our wages: the readers.

      I am raising my can of Carling to it as we speak! 😉

    • As I said in the post, our all-in-one tech team!

      Thanks for the extra info, Elizabeth!

  11. Very exciting! Congratulations on all the success! It looks like your hard work is paying off. Looking forward to being a small part of the big machine as time goes by.

    –Mike

  12. You have no idea how hard it was to keep mum about some of the details that we’re released about this.

    I’m glad that they’ve finally let some of the cats out of the bag.

    I’m sure there’s much more in the works and I’m thrilled to be part of it.

    • Miriam Joy
    • January 20th, 2012

    That is a lot of news for one blog post… O.o

  13. Wow, am I glad i signed with MWiDP from the get-go!

    Mark, apropo of the audio issue… I approached a live theatre grandee and told him I was looking for voices like Cate Blanchett, Richard Armitage and Kenneth Branagh and he gave me six names of professionally trained acting voices and I have sourced a professional recording facility… will be in touch with the rest of the detail.

    Not to put too fine a point on this, but the voices need to be GOOD… and the production facilities topnotch, as we’ve talked about. I think if done right, MWiDP Audiobooks could be a force to be reckoned with. The studio above might be interested in PROD (produce-on-demand as opposed to print-on-demand)… will email.

    • All sounds great, Prue. Look forward to hearing more!

      I’m sure Richard Armitage would love to give Gisborne some level of promotion, if you can get past his gatekeepers to ask him.

      Agree totally about professional standards.

      My concern is the old-school audio production industry takes the same view as the old-school print industry. That it costs so much because that’s the way they do it, and that’s the only way it can be done.

      Indies can produce ebooks and POD to match trad-pub professional standards at a fraction of the costs, and I’m certain the same can be done for audio.

      • I totally agree which is exactly what I want to talk to you about!

      • OR that everyone needs to sound like the posh English Lit teacher! Kids are listening to books in a totally different way, as are adults. We need diversity!

  14. OMG omg O.M.G.! I think I have to go lie down.

    Okay, I got up again! This post incorporates a huge bunch of newses, and even though I know Mr. International (hey, can I take credit for coining that?) regularly wins both the talent and swimsuit competitions, he and Saffi have just knocked me for a loop with all this amazingness.

    I’m raising my hand for voice work too. Professional singer, experienced actress, good old American “newscaster” no-accent accent.

    It is thrilling to watch this unfold in real time. We are truly witnessing the revolution.

    Carry on! Thanks for Paying it Forward. And CONGRATULATIONS.

    • Thanks, Patrice!

      No selling those swimsuit photos on eBay, please. My bikini days are behind me!

      An American with a non-accent acent? Sounds like a contradiction in terms from this side of the world. 🙂

      Will be in touch!

      • You didn’t tell Saffi about the telephoto lens that day you were on the beach? Hey, it wasn’t me… it was the international paparazzi. Can I help it that one snap of you in a Speedo is worth six figures?

    • Please get up off the floor Patrice! 😉

      Mr. International? That’s YOUR doing is it? Right! 😉

      Please don’t make me think of Mark in Speedo’s! Ugh! 😉

  15. Get your mind out of the gutter, Saffina! He is not wearing Speedos at all.

  16. Hi Mark & Saffi!
    I’ve come late to this party, via Dave Gaughran’s blog. Really interesting plans you’ve got there! I had no idea you were starting a travel imprint – that’s very interesting for me, I’d love to know what your terms and submission process will be for this.
    I was tempted to offer my vocal talents (I studied Acting at the Welsh College of Music and Drama), but it seems like you’ll have that sewn up long before you track this far down the comments!
    Best of luck with all the new ventures.
    Sleep must be an alien concept to you two!
    Tony

  17. There are a lot of under-employed actors! I could proffer an already recorded poetic novella of the sixties. ‘A Shadow in Yucatan’ Five voices in a studio with intervals of original music? Whether the standards would measure up …not sure. Reviewed in The Recusant online ezine for one persons ‘take’. The BBC no longer accepts anything longer than about ten minutes in the poetic line. A whole world to fill for cars in queues, for the blind alone, and on line for an alternative to the BBC…way to go. How about a short story comp for the Jubilee? Nobody seems to be running one.

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