Posts Tagged ‘ dead-tree publishers ’

A cappuccino, a latte, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood. No sprinkles on the Atwood.

Nathan Bransford this week has been posing the question more and more indies are struggling with:  do they need a publisher at all?

With agents and publishers turning away new writer after new writer more and more authors are self-publishing and proving there is a market for the work the gatekeepers rejected. At which point the gatekeepers come knocking at the door, kindly offering to represent us.

But by that time it may be too late. The author has experienced the true freedom being an indie can bring, and even if a publisher can make them more money (which is increasingly not the case) fewer and fewer authors would be willing to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of a contract.

For established authors with a back-list like Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Blake Crouch, Bob Meyer, etc, the rewards of indie publishing increasingly outweigh anything a trad publisher can offer. More and more established authors are moving to the indie side.

Nathan says,

I think publishers are going to have to think long and hard about what exactly they will actually be providing authors in an e-book world. There needs to be a major mindset shift from a gatekeeper-oriented “You’re lucky to be with us” mentality where authors are treated on a need-to-know and your-check-will-arrive-when-it-arrives basis to a service-oriented “What else could we possibly do for you” mentality.

No more books that get dropped in the ocean without publisher support. Embracing and investing in new marketing tactics for the Internet era. Becoming an integral part of how consumers find books.

And innovating with new ideas and experiments and models. Some publishers are, yes, but is it enough?

Authors should want to have their e-books published by the traditional publishers, not be forced to grudgingly give them up in exchange for being published in print. Big authors are soon going to have a choice, and publishers are going to need to make themselves indispensable once again.

Meanwhile prospective thriller writer Jake Hardman was wondering on his own blog about the future of ebooks vs paperbacks. Jake diagrees with me and others that the future of paperbacks is bleak.

If you only read one or two books a year it’s probably not worth buying an e-reader. It makes sense, however, for an avid reader to own one. Electronic books are generally cheaper and easier to get hold of than paper. What’s more, there’s the growing range of exciting books that are only published electronically. These reasons, however, don’t stack up for the occasional reader who’s unlikely to review the book blogs or buy on-line via one-click.

You can’t pick up an e-book (and probably never will be able to) in a supermarket, train station or airport, which is where I believe most occasional readers buy books. When placed by the checkout, cover facing outwards (something most authors can only dream about), paperbacks have the potential to attract their attention. E-books don’t. My guess is that avid readers who haven’t yet moved over to electronic formats will do so shortly, but the vast majority of occasional readers may never do so.

Traditional publishers – selling a limited range of blockbusters – will, for this reason, I believe continue to dominate the occasional-reader market.  Promoting their books in the aforementioned outlets, the death of the independent bookshop won’t affect their market, but they will lose a slice to the indie authors.

Jake makes some interesting points, but I disagreed on some things here. I did try and debate this over at Jake’s site but Blogger ate my comment, as happens all too often. However, the points Jake raised, especially in view of Nathan’s post, deserve a wider discussion. Do publishers and paperbacks have a future?

Anne R Allen ran a post on publishing ten years down the line. She predicted the following will survive:

Top-Selling Superstar Books in Hardcover, Suitable for Gift-Giving

Humor Books

Coffee Table Books

Impress-the-Guests/Keepsake Literary Books

Bibles and other Iconic Religious Books

Decorator Books

Books for Small Children

And of course, Snookibooks

No sign of paperbacks there. I’m not privy to Anne’s reasoning for the demise of the paperback but suspect it will be something like this:

Jake’s right that the occasional reader and impulse buyer is going to be tempted by the high-profile elite the trad publishers have paid to promote. Those are the books you see on the plinths, in the window displays, and in the supermarkets.

But bookstores have no future, and nor do supermarket book sales. At least, not for paperbacks. Because it won’t just be the independent booksellers that fall. It will be the giants like B&N and Waterstone’s. Sure, they may still exist in name, just as WH Smiths exists in name as a book seller in the UK. But the token array of books they sell will diminish and diminish until it’s just those books identified by Anne that survive.

The paperback, even for the mega-names like Patterson and King, will fade into oblivion. Perhaps lasting a year or so beyond the rest, but they cannot stay afloat on their own.

A common argument of the anti-epub brigade is that only a minority will ever own an e-reader. This is true.

But e-readers per se are not the future of ebooks. Tablets are. Or whatever the next generation of e-reading smart mini-computers may be called. If dedicated e-readers were the only way of reading ebooks then the digital future would be bleak. But dedicated e-readers like the b&w Kindle are already all but obsolete.

Even if you only read one or two books a year you will most likely soon be owning a tablet / smart phone or other device.

Paper sales will therefore continue to decline and a vicious circle of economics will render the mass paperback commercially unviable because the book stores will be either closed or just selling ebooks and coffee, and the supermarkets will want prices so low to buy-in that the printing costs will no longer be covered.

Bear in mind stores like Tesco (largest UK retail chain) has its own ebook store. Others are following suit. Presumably the same is happening in the US. Nothing too exciting now but who knows where it might be in a year’s time.

The thing is, there’s nothing to stop Tesco or any other major retailer having an ebook display of the mega names at the till.  Maybe they can listen to an audio teaser on earphones while they queue. A click of a button and the book is downloaded to the customer’s smartphone, tablet or whatever as soon as they pay for their shopping.

Books take shelf space. Shelf space is money. The supermarkets will stock books only so long as they are bringing in more than they cost to stock. Why would they waste shelf space on wads of paper that fewer and fewer people will buy when they can instead sell ebooks with no shelf space?

If I were running a supermarket chain I would be looking at a leisure-cafe instead of those diabolical shoppers’ restaurants. A leisure cafe where customers can buy expensive coffee with huge profit margins while sampling ebooks from the supermarket’s own ebook store, clicking buy and having the ebooks added to the check-out tally when they pick up their groceries.

The ONLY way paperbacks can survive is if POD technology improves to the point where in those same cafes you can order a print version of whatever book you wish and have it printed in-store, to a professional standard and at a sensible price, and have it ready to collect at the checkout.

Yes, the technology exists, but it’s a novelty toy that will never ctach on in any meaningful way.  The practicalities of operating (staff), storage (paper and ink for printing) and maintenance would leave the supermarket or bookstore little better off than before, and catering for a diehard and ever-diminishing minority of readers.

It’s a matter of time before similar browsing cafes appear at major train stations and airports, most likely by the big e-retailers teaming up with the big coffee bars already in position. Many bookstores already host coffee bars. Books and coffee are already as one in the public mind.

New technology will determine just how the future pans out, but the mass paperback is on its death bed.

Which brings us back to Nathan. Why should mega-sellers like Patterson and King stick with their paper publishers, beyond special edition hard-backs, once digital fully takes over?

Nathan said,

Publishers are going to need to make themselves indispensable once again.

I suspect one way they will do that is by buying their way into those browser cafes (Starbooks?) and making sure ebooks by their own published authors get the big promotions, just as they do now in the bookstores with paper products. That way they might just hang on to some of their big name authors, and rely on the niche paper products Anne referred to for their other income.

The big issue for the future is whether those publishers that survive, leaner and meaner, will be able to buy or bully their way into the e-distributors’ favour, or challenge them head-on.

As Amazon moves more and more into publishing it seems there are two likely futures for the major publishing corporations:

1.     The so-called Big Six get their act together to buy rival e-distributors like B&N and the smaller e-book outlets like the UK’s Waterstone’s and set up their own e-store based on known names, while refusing to supply Amazon (and perhaps Apple too).

2.     The so-called Big Six collectively come to an agreement with Apple to exclusively supply, and go to war against Amazon, B&N and the smaller outlets.

Paperbacks have no future, but let’s not write off the big publishers just yet. They have the money and the muscle to evolve.

How do you see the future of paper publishing?

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Bloodbath at the Kindle U.K. Corral

Just a few weeks or so ago I warned of the floodgates opening, with the news that JK Rowling was to finally release her Harry Potter novels as e-books.

This would, I suggested, have every dead-tree publisher in the country re-evaluating their position on e-books and accepting, however reluctantly, that e-books had come of age.

B&N: useless in the UK

Amazon were already selling more e-books than paper, and the CEO of Barnes & Noble (just as Borders went into liquidation) had stated e-books would become the dominant delivery format within two years.

In fact things are moving faster than anyone dared predict. The APP just produced figures for February showing e-books outsold paper across ALL trade categories in the US.

Here in the UK e-reading has been slower to catch on, and traditional publishers here slower to take advantage. With B&N’s nook completely useless here (non-US citizens cannot buy from B&N) e-readers were very much “an American thing” until Amazon gave us all a boost with the latest Kindle. Suddenly not only could we read e-books easily, but we could upload them easily too.

“Indie” writers like us have been able to take full advantage of the stagnation of the dead-tree publishers and to get a good foothold before the dam burst.

But as I’ve warned time and again, it was a window of opportunity that could not long last. Publishers would, any time now, realise that charging the same price for an e-book as for a full price paper version was not the way forward. How long before they realised they can actually make more money by selling cheaper to far more people.

Answer: not very long at all. This weekend saw the first wave of the tsunami as the dam was breached.

Publishers let loose a raft of back-list paper-published books with “names” and an established readership onto the Kindle – but at “indie” prices. Battle commenced.

Except, it wasn’t so much a battle as a bloodbath.

The Kindle Top 100 this morning is a different world from the weekend just gone. It’s a morning-after battle-field and the casualties are littered everywhere. The casualties being the big-name authors with e-books at paper prices, and of course the “indie” publishers.

This morning Kindle UK indie-publishers will have looked at the charts through barely parted fingers, not knowing what to expect.

Just this weekend fellow indie Jake Barton’s Burn Baby Burn had bounced confidently into the Kindle top ten and was threatening to join us in the top five. This morning Jake’s excellent book has almost dropped to the top forty.

Steve Carter’s quirky romance novel Love, Sex and Tesco’s Finest Cava, which gave us some sleepless nights just a week or so ago, is right back in the seventies.

And so on and so on…

It may be this is just an Easter promotion and things will return to normal for the summer, but I suspect not. Even if it is an experiment, the sheer volume of sales now being picked up by the back-list e-books will more than justify the tiny margins, and more cheap e-books will inevitably follow. The dam may not have burst, but it’s definitely been breached.

And what of Sugar & Spice? Well, that seems to be, as Berthold Brecht might have said, the exception that proves the rule.

Somehow we managed to cling on to the number one thriller spot, and as I write are still in the top five over-all. Which proves it can be done!

So yes, the battle just got a whole lot harder, but it is still possible to compete with the “names” as an indie.

And the sooner we see a few more indie writers back in the top twenty the better. So get to it, guys!

How long is too long? When is the “right time” to self-publish?

Okay, I have to be honest. I’ve been struggling all week to figure out an angle to do a shameless plug for the launch of our US Edition of Sugar & Spice without it looking like a shameless plug.

Then out of the blue came three successive blog posts by a fellow author that made me realise that the plug could wait until tomorrow.

This was far more interesting. So ignore that image above. It has no place here.

Instead, say hello to Anne R. Allen.

Among Anne’s most recent offerings is a post titled “12 signs your novel isn’t ready to publish”, which follows hard on the heels of “3 questions to ask before you jump on the indie publishing bandwagon.”

As Anne says, “Trusted voices in the publishing industry, who not long ago warned against self-publishing, are now singing its praises.

Self-publishing is no longer equated with vanity publishing, and we all know the success stories of writers like Amanda Hocking, who have spear-headed the “indie” e-publishing revolution, and rightly earned their place in publishing history.

But as Anne thoughtfully reminds us, it is a bandwagon.

And, tempting as it may be to rush in now with your recipe book, great great grandfather’s memoirs, or the blockbuster manuscript you’ve been secretly working on this past three decades and lay them before an adoring public, maybe it is better to take a step back and take a reality check. Hence the “12 signs your novel…”

Anne had in mind the case of the author on Amazon who recently responded badly to what appeared to be legitimate criticism, and was savaged all the more for her troubles. I certainly won’t embarrass the author further by identifying her or her book. I’m sure we all know the story by now. A sad episode for all parties concerned, as best summed up Nathan Bransford in his blog Virtual Witch-Hunt.

I have to say I was heartened to learn (again through Anne’s blog) that the author’s sales actually picked up as a consequence. Which is kind of nice. Hopefully that writer has learned her lesson and will go on to greater things. As for those who jumped on that particular bandwagon of name calling and finger pointing… The less said the better.

But underlying Anne’s blog piece was the question of how do we, as writers, know when we are ready? Or when our work is ready?

At what point do we stop seeking approval of the almighty gatekeepers and just go for it?

“How long is too long?”

~

Now obviously we’ve been exceptionally lucky with Sugar & Spice.

When we finished the script last year the idea of e-publishing hadn’t been given much thought. The Kindle hadn’t really caught on here in the UK, and anyway we were writers.

We believed a book wasn’t a book until it was on the plinth in the bookstore on the High Street. Or at least gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. But it had to involve real ink, and paper. After all, this new “e-publishing” malarkey was just a modern form of vanity-publishing, wasn’t it?

Of course we’d heard of Amanda Hocking and the other up-starts making waves across the pond, but no-one in the UK read e-books, surely?

So we began the long, hard slog of playing find-an-agent.

Now it’s one of the ironies of the agent-hunting business that, the longer they take to respond, the more likely it is they are actually interested.

If your proposal comes back by return post, or even worse, the same day as an email, you’ve either submitted your work to an agent who doesn’t touch your genre, or your work was bad enough to need just a single glance and be allocated a rejection slip.

Agents are running businesses. Time is money. They don’t have time to waste trying to find the one good bit in your mess of a manuscript. And they most certainly don’t want your pointless proposal cluttering up their desk any longer than necessary.

So if you’ve been waiting for an eternity for a response, take heart. They like your work enough to at least seriously consider it.

But as we’ve seen with Tom, Mark and Gerry (previous blogs), even if you get the agency contract, that’s only half the battle. You then go through the whole thing again to get an actual publisher.

Which brings us back to the key question: “How long is too long?”

And perhaps more importantly, are you missing out on the opportunity of a life-time by chasing the paper dream?

~

We elected for the dual approach.

With the Kindle Christmas bonanza approaching we decided to e-publish through Amazon and continue to submit to agents simultaneously. We hoped maybe we’d pick up a few e-sales along the way and get some feedback, and meanwhile keep our fingers crossed for an agent.

In fact we’d left it too late and we totally missed the festive e-sales bonanza. Come Christmas morning when everyone was gleefully buying their first ever e-book downloads, Sugar & Spice was just another obscure e-book in the Amazon jungle and no-one knew it existed. And so it stayed in January. What did it take to get noticed on Amazon’s Kindle?

Fast forward three months…

Agency rejections have come in slowly. Slowly being the sign we weren’t being rejected out of hand, at least. But our novel is not an easy-sell. One leading agent told us it was well written and she had agonized over it, but the subject matter (inside the mind of a paedophile killer) was “the last taboo” in crime writing.

And of course the paper publishing industry anyway works on a different time-scale from the real world.

The manuscript has been with the latest prospective agent now for two months. Yes, they are definitely interested, but that’s as far as we’ve got.

The e-book?

Well, regular readers will know the situation and just have to forgive me mentioning for new visitors that Sugar & Spice is, as I write, the #1 best selling thriller on Kindle UK and #3 in the main Kindle UK chart, selling some 20,000 books a month.

And that’s JUST through Amazon. We haven’t even begun to explore other options properly yet.

But the reason for citing those figures is to make a very real point.

Leaving aside the obvious delight at having got so far on our own, and leaving aside the short-term financial boost this brings, what we have now as writers is something far more important.

Let’s return here to the third of Anne’s blogs, titled “What if somebody steals your plot?”

Anne begins by addressing the amusing habit new writers have of fearing their agent / publisher / best friend’s mother-in-law will steal their plot and make a million.

As Anne says, new writers “can embarrass themselves with plot-theft paranoia. That’s why you never want to mention copyright in a query letter. It red-flags you as an amateur.”

Wise advice indeed. But it was Anne’s follow-up comment that really struck a chord with me. Anne mentions how she and other authors are often approached by non-writers convinced they have this great idea for a book and just need someone to put it into words for them.

“I don’t want to be mean,” Anne says with majestic diplomacy, “but they (non-writers) need to understand that most writers have plenty of story ideas of our own. Our biggest fear is not living long enough to write them all.”

How true is that?!

Even before I teamed up with Saffi my projects folder was a heaving mass of ideas across all genres, fiction and non-fiction. Now, between us, just the short synopses of what we’d like to write next would make a full length book.

What of it?

Well, had we not gone the self-publishing route, and instead were still patiently hoping for the gatekeepers’ seal of approval, we would at best have been working half-heartedly at book number two, wondering what we were doing wrong.

And of course if an offer had materialised we would have just signed on the dotted line, glad to be “accepted” by the gatekeepers, and agreeing to whatever they suggested.

Which sure as hell wouldn’t be daring to experiment with a US edition of Sugar & Spice, or working on completely different genres. In fact ninety per cent of our projects would have been vetoed from the start just because they didn’t tick the right boxes for the gatekeepers.

Knowing now that we don’t “need” an agent or publisher to reach an audience has given us the confidence to press ahead with our many other projects. We hope to have several more books on Amazon by the end of the year, across several genres (the first of the Rose Red crime thriller series and the first of the Equilibrium dark fantasy trilogy to name but a few), and have plans for a dozen more over the next three years. (Two writers together can easily more than double the output of one!)

We’re far from ready to give up the day jobs, of course. And yes, we could drop out of the charts tomorrow and plummet into oblivion. Our next books may flop completely. We are always realistic.

But having the confidence to seriously get on with the next projects, knowing we can publish when we are ready and not have to rely on the gatekeepers’ approval… Having the freedom to write what we want to write next, not what the gatekeepers think will trend in two years time… And above all being able to control the timing, the marketing and the pricing (of course we would never be selling 20,000 a month at book-shop prices) is worth its weight in gold.

And it does raise the awkward question, what will we do if an agent / publisher does finally come up with an offer?

Watch this space…

Becoming a Rhino – Gerry McCullough’s Story

When an attachment about a rhino first arrived in my in-box it had had me flummoxed.

Plenty of hippos in this part of West Africa, but rhinos are in short supply. Was this a safari enquiry? Or maybe a recipe suggestion?

In fact it was from Gerry McCullough, author of Belfast Girls.

Rhinos? That will become clear as we go.

I’d asked Gerry to share with us her path to publication. Had she discovered the magic formula to instant success?

Sadly, no. It’s another forlorn tale of hope and disappointment, of  dreams and reality, and of rejection and redemption. But yeah, mostly rejection.

Rejection underpins the lives of amost all authors, no matter how successful they are now. And in a weird kind of way, we as wannabe writers thrive on other peoples’ rejection stories.

They give us the will to live when we begin to doubt ourselves, as yet another beautifully crafted rejection slip arrives in the post or our email in-box.

We love to remind ourselves how the venerable JK’s first Harry Potter manuscript was dismissed by the gatekeepers time after time, including the biggest names in British publishing, and then given a tiny print run and was almost never heard of again.

We love to hear how John Grisham got up an hour early every day to write his first novel, only to have it rejected by twelve publishers and fifteen agents who thought they knew best.

Which of course they must do, right?

Agents and publishers are the gatekeepers, after all. Or so some seem to think.

Jenny Bent is a New York based literary agent who thankfully doesn’t see things that way, but readily admits she’s pretty much on her own. This from her latest blog:

“A year or two ago I was having lunch with an old friend, someone I think both intelligent and savvy, the publisher of a largish imprint at a major house. We had a disagreement about what was going to happen as e-books became more popular. His position was that readers would always need the big publishing houses because they needed to have their content filtered, so to speak–because as agents, editors, and publishers, we had a certain kind of literary taste or standard and we needed to pass that along to the reader”

I’ll be coming back to the issue of agents and publishers as gate-keepers in a near-future blog. But for now, before we move on to Gerry McCullough properly, sit back and enjoy a few more examples of the gate-keepers showing their “certain kind of literary taste or standard,” as Jenny so elegantly puts it.

Let us be forever thankful for the gatekeeper who spotted the mindless drivel some up-start wannabe writer tried to palm off on a professional publisher. Wisely he passed on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold to a rival with the comment, “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” So said another gatekeeper publisher as he saved us from the banal witterings of this new guy, Stephen King.

William Golding’s Lord Of the Flies managed to upset an impressive twenty publishers. One noted thoughtfully, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” With those words a young Rudyard was sent packing by those who know best.

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA,” said a publisher who slightly misunderstood the point of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Another talentless wannabe, Margaret Mitchell, managed to rack up no less than 38 rejections for her ludicrous attempt at a manuscipt before some two-bit publishing outfit got fed up with her pestering them and gave it a small print run. Then some idiot went and made a film about it.

They both flopped, of course. I mean, whoever heard of Gone With The Wind?

But apart from being writers, what do all the above have in common with Gerry McCullough?

Answer: They never gave up.

Here’s Gerry’s story:

I’ve been writing since childhood, with the encouragement of my primary school teachers, but it was when I was in my teens that I started sending things off to publishers/ magazines, and piling up the rejections.

PG Wodehouse once said that he had enough rejections to paper the walls of his study. By the time I had a study, I had enough rejections to paper all four walls and the downstairs loo as well.

My dream was to be a great writer on the lines of Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, acknowledged as a good writer by the literary critics but also a bestseller popular with the reader-in-the-street.

I had no idea how impossible that is in today’s publishing world.

Ten years ago, I had my first acceptance, a short story for a popular Irish weekly magazine. I was flying. This was it – no more refusals, now!

Well, no. The same magazine seemed happy to accept anything else I sent them but not many others were. The rejections kept coming.

A few years later I won the Cuirt Award for New International Writing for a more literary short story.  This is a prestigious Irish award from Galway Arts Festival. Again, I saw this as a real breakthrough – but it wasn’t.

Did I see myself as a short story writer?  No. I’ve written lots of short stories and had quite a few published but meanwhile I’ve also written at least six novels, the first completed and unsuccessfully submitted to publishers in my mid-to-late teens.

I badly wanted to have a novel published.

Another breakthrough – I thought – was when a local agent accepted me and started to push my book, Dangerous Games.

This was the story of three girls growing up in Belfast. Originally set during the Troubles, it had been re-written for the modern post-conflict era of drugs and money. Sound familiar? Yes, with a change of title it became Belfast Girls.

After a year of unsuccessful submissions, my agent suggested that I put it up on authonomy.com, the HarperCollins online slush pile, and I did.

The rest is history – the history of a hard slog.

I worked to make my book visible, reading other books and commenting on them in the hope that their authors would be polite enough to at least look at mine in return. Mostly they were. I think if the book had been rubbish they wouldn’t have gone further.

But in fact by April last year, at the end of five months, I had reached the top five, earning my book a review by an HC reader and the possibility of a publishing contract. I held on to my Top Five place until the end of April and then waited another six weeks for the review.

I had convinced myself by now that a contract offer would follow.

Alas, although the reader said some very flattering things about the book, no publishing deal emerged. It was a bitter disappointment.

Rejections still pierce.

I haven’t yet developed the hide of a rhino, which my friend Sam Millar, the crime writer, says all authors need.

HC wanted me to turn my book into either a romance or a thriller, and I wasn’t up for that. Belfast Girls is about life – which means romance, thriller, comedy and much more.

I’m delighted to say that the exposure of being on Authonomy won my book the interest of quite a few smaller publishers. 

Of these, Night Publishing was happy to take it as it was, without trying to push it into a genre. They offered me a contract on 1 July (a fortnight after the HC review) and a few weeks later I decided to go for it.

By the end of November, the book was for sale on Amazon.com as a paperback and on both Kindles, etc, in eBook format.

Then came the really hard work.


Lots of articles are written about how to sell your book online and you’ll be glad to hear this isn’t yet another one.

At first I tried to sell my paperbacks. About a month ago, I realised that the major sales were coming from the eBooks, and started to concentrate on that.

I’d had quite a few interviews on blogs, which was nice – but I’m not sure how many books it sold.

I’d been on local radio, with a wide audience, three times, with the prospect of more, and I’d had a number of good reviews in local newspapers and magazines. Writer Garbhan Downey compared me to Andre Malraux, and said my book was about the human condition, which pleased me a lot, because that was the intention.

I was getting the literary appreciation I’d hoped for. But what about the bestseller status?

Did I need to change, to label my book ‘Romance’? Change the title and cover and description? I thought about it.

Meanwhile, my husband had set me up on Facebook with a Fan page, and I began to make use of this.

Suddenly I saw the book begin to climb the bestseller lists on Kindle UK.

I didn’t, like Byron, wake up one morning to find myself famous. But I did wake up one morning to find myself well up the Women’s Literary Fiction list, at No.32. Last Sunday I came home to see that I had reached No.13. I was also halfway up the Literary Fiction and the Contemporary Romance lists.

Since then it’s been continual movement.  I hope I’ve at last reached the tipping point, where the book will continue to sell without the amount of work on publicity I’ve had to give it until now.

Belfast Girls is on just about every Amazon site worldwide and although it’s early days yet to say how it’s doing, there’s been quite a bit of interest.

One customer from South Africa has been glowingly enthusiastic, and hopefully there’ll be lots more from these other countries. So far all my reviews have been good. With increased sales I expect a few bad ones will arrive. Then I’ll find out how thick a hide I’ve grown. Not very thick yet, I suspect.


But the main market is Kindle. I’d hoped to see piles of my books in bookshops, and that isn’t likely to happen currently.

But the Kindle sales are a delight and more than make up for it. Perhaps I’ll get to the top of the bestseller list sometime soon.  That’ll be the time for running through the streets shouting, ‘Hallelujah!’

But if not – well, I can only say that I’m very happy – over the moon, in fact! – to see Belfast Girls doing as well as it has.

Thanks for that, Gerry. Let’s hope your book soars up the Kindle charts and begins to develop sales elsewhere.

For anyone interested, Belfast Girls can be bought on amazon.com here, and amazon.co.uk here.

BTW, and for the record, should anyone have spotted that Night Publishing is behind both Gerry’s book and Tom Winton’s Beyond Nostalgia, featured here a week or two back, just to stress that that is purely coincidental. Neither Saffi nor I are connected in any way with Night Publishing.

My acquaintance with both authors came through their presence on the peer review sites youwriteon and authonomy.

Which is perhaps a pertinent note to end on.

For all their faults, both sites remain excellent places to “meet” and sample new and up-and-coming writing talent.

Both sites deserve our continued support and encouragement whether, like us, we are just taking our first tentative steps on the self-publishing ladder, or even if one of us hits the jackpot and get a deal that would make even JK envious.

However successful the mega-star writers are now, they all started out as wannabes, just like us.

Harry Potter and the Dam-Busters

The dam is about to burst, with the announcement that JK Rowling is negotiating for all her Harry Potter books to be released as e-books.

Not only will this trigger a huge rise in e-reader sales, on top of the phenomenal expansion already happening, but more importantly this will be the day e-books come of age.

At the moment most paper-based publishers treat the e-book market as a useful sideline to their main business of selling books on paper.

That point is worth dwelling on.

Publishers have spent their entire past existence selling paper with a book attached. Just as, until oh so recently, the music industry sold first vinyl and then CDs with music attached.

When music downloads first became available, the music industry went out of its way to dismiss the digital alternative as inferior quality that would open the flood-gates to any old Tom, Dick or Harriet producing their own music and making it available to the public.

How dare the up and coming musicians think they could by-pass the music industry’s gate-keepers?!

What about standards? Quality? Professionalism? The gate-keepers ensured the public’s well-being and protected them by preventing the market being flooded by rubbish music from wannabes who hadn’t followed the rule book.

But despite the music industry’s best efforts to ignore and belittle them, digital music downloads just got better and better, until finally a tipping point was reached and the music industry embraced them.

True, CDs are still available, and even vinyl, but the main delivery system is now digital.

And the key factors in making that happen were consumer choice and technological innovation.

Consumer choice meant that suddenly a music lover did not have to restrict themselves to whatever their soon to go out of business local store could offer, nor even to the bigger but oh so predictable and commercial range offered by the music superstores.

Technological innovations meant you could carry around with you more music than you could ever listen to in a life-time.

Books were slow to follow suit.

Technology held back progress and consumer choice held back progress.

Reading a whole book sat at a computer screen was never going to be a pleasant experience, and consumer choice was pretty much non-existent.

As e-readers became better and cheaper that began to change. Barnes & Noble’s Nook was a reasonable success, but as it did (and still does) prevent anyone outside the US actually downloading anything it never deserved to do better. The limited competition from Sony and the cheap Korean imitations had the same problem of limited consumer choice.

Then along came the Kindle…

We all know the Kindle’s success story, and we can see, day by day, how the Kindle is transforming the e-book market.

The CEO of Barnes & Noble conceded last month that digital downloads would be the primary delivery system for books within two years. This hard on the heels of Amazon confirming they sold more e-books than paper books last year.

The next twelve to eighteen months will see e-readers radically improve in quality and rapidly reduce in price as the trend to e-reading accelerates.

At the moment the one big advantage paper has is that it is universal. Language aside, a paper book is a paper book. Whether you buy it from B&N, Amazon, your local book-store or a charity shop you can read it. Sadly my Kindle cannot easily download a book from B&N or Waterstone’s, so if Amazon doesn’t have it it’s not an option.

Sure there are numerous apps and other ways and means to transfer books between devices, but it’s not straight-forward.

It looks like we’re in for a year or so of mix-n-match marketing, rather like the old days with Betamax and VHS, until an industry standard is agreed for delivery and all devices will be able to receive e-books from all suppliers.

And all books will be avalable as e-books.

Like it or not, it’s going to happen. Your personal preference for a good old fashioned chunk of a dead tree in your hands will still be an option for a good while yet, but the direction is clear and nothing is going to stop it.

Borders paid the price for ignoring it. B&N are desperately struggling to keep up with it.

For the big publishing houses it’s crunch time. The publishing world in five years time will be a wholly different place from what it is now. Paper books will be a niche market. Lucrative for the few, but most definitely a niche.

The Barnes & Noble CEO predicted it would be two years before the balance swayed in favour of digital. This despite Amazon already having reached that point.

But this before the announcement that the venerable JK herself was about to go digital.

That’s the same JK who has previously deliberately distanced herself from the e-book markets.

Not that she needs it, but Rowling expected to net one hundred million pounds from the deal – and that just a small percentage of what her publishers will make.

Make no mistake: e-books have arrived, and the other big names will soon follow suit in a big way.

No timetable has been given, but safe to presume Christmas 2011 will see e-reader sales hit the stratosphere as a Kindle / Nook/ Sony / etc becomes a must-have accessory, and Harry Potter will hold the top seven places in the e-book charts.

For anyone still on the fence about e-publishing, now is most definitely the time to take the plunge.

In a year’s time it may be too late.

At the moment very few publishers seem to be taking e-books too seriously. Just as Borders didn’t…

There will be a huge shake-up as e-publishing hits their margins and those that emerge stronger from the battle will almost certainly become the gate-keepers for the new e-book publishing world, able to introduce loss-leaders (as we saw at Christmas on Kindle) and able to invest huge sums in promoting the select few, just as they do now.

We (Saffi and I) been extraordinarily lucky. We’ve beaten the likes of James Patterson and Steig Larsson in the Kindle charts and are currently locked against the almighty Wilbur Smith for third place.

We’re not so arrogant as to think our book, Sugar & Spice, is better than theirs, or that we are actually out-selling theirs, of course.  Obviously we can compete with mega-stars like these only because most of their buyers will still be opting for the paper version.

Nonetheless, despite being complete unknowns without an agent or publisher, and with no loyal following from previously published works, we’ve come from nowhere to sell over 20,000 e-books on Kindle so far (no, you won’t see that on Novelrank, but we have sent Mario our figures) and are on target this month to double that, with sales edging (slowly!) towards 1000 a day.

That’s nothing compared to Wilbur Smith, of course, or even our main chart rival Stephen Leather, who has consistently held the top places on Kindle UK.

Our point being, it’s 20,000 more than we would have sold if we’d sat back waiting for a paper publisher…

The fact is, 15,000 of those e-books have been sold since we last sent our manuscript to an agent, and we are still waiting for a response…

And much as we’d love to straddle both paper and digital markets, it has to be said we’re doing pretty well on our own. So far we are ONLY selling to Kindle owners. Next to target B&N on the Nook, Waterstone’s on Sony, etc, etc.

And if the right offer comes along, maybe to go to paper too, while it’s still an option. There’s no question that a good contract with a paper publisher could offer opportunities  we as “indies” could not take advantage of. Again, Stephen Leather leaves us looking on enviously as he gets his paper works translated and sold across Europe while simultaneously keeping us off the number two spot on Kindle UK.

But Stephen is an old hand at this game, and has been on the circuit a long time, with a raft of published books to his credit. He also has a little help from above, as this never before seen in the UK photo shows. (Oops! That’s us two off his Christmas card list!)

This blog is aimed at the new and up-and-coming writers who are currently on the fence about e-publishing. At the moment the door is wide open and those with a combination of energy, good marketing, a reasonable product and a degree of luck have a golden opportunity to jump the queue, get a head start and establish a brand.

An opportunity that almost certainly won’t exist this time next year.

Christmas 2011 is pretty much guaranteed to see Harry Potter sweeping the board, and where JK leads, the rest will surely follow.

This time next year a new and unknown “indie” publisher will be lucky to get into the top hundred.

Which is why we are now going full out now to get as many titles out there as quickly as possible to establish a brand and develop a wide readership that will hopefully carries us through the turbulent waters ahead.

We thought we had a period of grace of maybe two years, as the B&N CEO suggested, but JK Rowling has just upped the ante.

Carpe diem! Make your lives extraordinary!



The numbers game.

Okay, today’s blog is about… numbers.

Yes, I hear you. We’re writers, not mathematicians, and words are our tools.

I know how you all hate maths, or even math, for our American readers.

But this is about real numbers. Numbers that matter to us as writers.

Royalties, in other words.

Yeah, thought that would get your attention.

As previously blogged, Barry Eisler’s turning down half a million bucks to “go indie” and darling Amanda “selling out” (not my words!) to the dead-tree guys has over-night changed the way the world views publishing.

On top of that, as Borders US finally succumbed to the inevitable and went into liquidation (Borders UK did so a year or two back) the CEO of Barnes & Noble stated on record that digital books would be the primary delivery system for books within two years.

For Amazon, that’s already the case. They sold more e-books than paper books last year, and that was before the Kindle took off big-time (eleven million Kindles sold).

Britain’s biggest retailer Tesco now sells Kindles over the counter and rival groups are selling rival e-readers. Six months e-readers were virtually unheard of in the UK. Now we see them everywhere, and the trend is growing by the day.

In the US, as the B&N CEO concedes, that trend is far more advanced.

A tipping point has been reached.

The next generation of e-readers will be more savvy, more creative, more must-have, and perhaps most importantly less costly.

There can be no question that e-books are the future. The question is just when, and how it will effect us, both as readers and as writers.

Nathan Bransford has just published a most informative blog that spells out the reality of numbers as they relate to us as authors. You can read his full blog here.

Essentially, he asks, is it better to go “indie” and e-publish, or to keep chasing the dream of a real, printed book in your hands and try to get an agent and publisher?

Of course we all want the pleasure of a real book, our book, in our hands.

We approached agents before we decided to e-publish, and had one offered us the chance at the time we would almost certainly have signed on the dotted line, agreed to anything they wanted, and now be sitting waiting for our book to appear in the shops in maybe a year’s time.

Hopefully having been given a huge advance, but as an unknown author with an unknown book the chances of any advance being offered was slim, let alone a life-changing one.

As you all know, the agents were intrigued but not convinced. So we put our book out as en e-book and got on with life.

Had we signed up with an agent and then a publisher, and leaving aside any advance (which is clawed back from future sales – it’s not a gift from the publisher!) what could we have expected?

Nathan has kindly laid out the figures for us and I reproduce them here with due acknowledgement.

Standard royalties via traditional publishers (note: these may vary):
Hardcover: 10% retail, sometimes escalating to 15% after sales thresholds are met
Trade paperback: 7.5% retail
Mass market: 8% retail
E-book: 25% net (usually translates to 17.5% retail)

Kindle revenue share for self-published authors:
Priced higher than $9.99: 35% retail
Priced between $2.99-$9.99: 70% retail
Priced below $2.99: 35% retail

B&N revenue share for self-published authors:
Priced higher than $9.99: 40% retail
Priced between $2.99-$9.99: 65% retail
Priced below $2.99: 40% retail

E-distribution fee:
Smashwords: about 15%. Usually translates to about 60% of the retail price.

Approximate E-book market share:
Amazon: ~55%
B&N: ~25%
Others (Kobo, Apple, Google, Sony, etc.): ~20% combined

Okay, so what does that mean in real money?

Let us suppose that we had been offered, and signed, a deal for Sugar & Spice and it had not been e-published independently by us.

What would have happened?

First off, you would not be reading this, because you would never have heard of the groundbreaking debut crime thriller Sugar & Spice, or Saffina Desforges or Mark Williams.

Possibly by the end of 2011, but more likely 2012 (according to Publishers’ Lunch most manuscripts now being signed up will not see print until spring 2013!) our book would finally be published.

Now unless that publisher is taking a huge interest in us, is buying us a plinth in Waterstone’s (don’t for one second think bookshops hand over the plinth and poster space out of the kindness of their heart!) and is sending out sample copies and lunch invitations to all their well-connected reviewers, etc, then our book will be just another spine on the shelf.

Again, who ever heard of Saffina Desforges?

In 2012 the name would be as just as obscure as in 2010.

But we’ll be hoping that readers who have never heard of the author or the title will risk ten pounds (or whatever the dollar equivalent may be) on us rather than spend that ten pounds on Stephen King, James Patterson or another big name they know and trust.

Come to that, dollar equivalent? Forget that!

Our book would only be available in selected high-street stores in the UK.

Okay, so sometime in 2012, a year down the line, our book is finally published and if we’re really lucky people buy it.

Nathan states royalties of 10% for hardback and 7% to 8% for paperbacks. E-book royalties if put online via a publisher are 25%, but in  reality only 14% to 17%.

Now this month, March 2011, we have sold approximately 13,000 e-books at our chosen retail price of 71p. That could go up or down next month, though the trend is most definitely up.

We were only a top twenty seller at the beginning of March. As I write this we are a top five seller. On our current daily sales we are on target to sell 20,000 next month if nothing changes. And believe me, those figures pale into insignificance compared to Stephen Leather’s sales!

And our sales are only for Amazon Kindle. We haven’t listed on Waterstone’s yet, and we haven’t started marketing ourselves on Barnes & Noble properly.

But let’s take 13,000 sales in one month as our base-line.

Now the Amazon royalties are public knowledge. No trade secrets here. We make 35% of retail because we choose a low retail price.

What chance our paper-published book selling 13,000 copies in a month? Virtually impossible.

Of course, the mega-names like Cornwell, Patterson, King, Grisham, etc, do it all the time, sure. But this is an unknown author with no history, no loyal readership built up over years, and no publicity machine behind it.

So in a year’s time Sugar & Spice is published by a “real” publisher, and released through them as an e-book on Amazon. And we’re lucky and it does as well as it is now, and we sell 13,000 copies in a month.

Read out those figures again, Nathan!

E-book: 25% net (usually translates to 17.5% retail).

17.5%!!! And Barry Eisler reckons the real figure is nearer 14%.

But let’s stick to 17.5%.

So we sell 13,000 e-books at the same price, with the same amount of marketing effort on our part.

But instead of getting 35% of the royalties we hand over half of that to the publisher!

Suddenly we have to sell over 25,000 e-books a month just to get the same money back we earn by selling just 13,000 as “indie” publishers.

True, only people with a screen can read our book now, and we are missing out on a huge number of prospective readers who only read on paper.

But by the time the book actually sees print the number of e-readers will have multiplied a zillion times while the number of paper readers will have dwindled.

Not fantasy. That’s the very near future as seen by the CEO of America’s biggest bookstore chain, B&N.

Now go a step further. Supposing our book continues to sell in volume over the coming months, or even increases as word spreads. Supposing we get our act together (remember, this is all new to us – we’re learning as we go) and get our book on Waterstone’s e-books list and somehow make it happen on Barnes & Noble too…

Supposing we maintained 13,000 sales a month over the coming year. That’s 156,000 sales that, if we had signed a contract and were waiting for our book to be published, would not exist.

And as previously said, we’d then have to sell 25,000 e-books a month (300,000 a year!) just to make the same money.

We have several more books in the pipeline this year and many more after that. The first of our Rose Red crime thriller series is due on Kindle this summer, and the first of our dark fantasy trilogy Equilibrium will be on Kindle in September. Two follow-ups to Sugar & Spice are planned for the future (Puppy Dogs’ Tails and Cold Blood), and the projects list beyond that is a book in itself!

None of these would be seeing the light of day before 2012/ 2013 if we were with a dead-tree publisher.

Perhaps more importantly still, we would not have had the confidence to be planning this far ahead if we hadn’t already proven we could do it through e-sales.

Of course, a “real” publisher can potentially offer so many things we’d love to take advantage of.

Professional proof-reading (if you’re not a writer you can have no idea how time-consuming that is – time that could be spent writing the next book), foreign language translation, etc, etc.

Don’t think for one second we are trashing “real” publishing.

We are most definitely not.

If the right deal comes along of course we’ll grab it and run!

We still have bills to pay, families to provide for, and we still subscribe to Private Jet Monthly, just in case… (The one in the pic is mine. Saffi wants a pink one!)

But if the offer ever comes, we will have to balance the short-term delight of being able to hand over a real, made of paper, signed copy of our book to our loved ones, against the realities of the new publishing world that is now emerging.

If you’re on the fence with your manuscript, still sitting on the hard-drive while you weigh up the same issues, ponder the following conclusion from Nathan.

If you can sell print copies, all things being equal there’s still the bulk of the money to be made there.

But if you’re not going out in print in a big way, a self-published e-book is absolutely the way to go.

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