Category Archives: Ebook Creation

Book Trailers

Outback road AustraliaI am a member of the Association of Independent Authors and this month they have a special deal going with COSProductions to have a book trailer made for just $250 (normally $1,000). My latest novel, ‘Never Be Unsaid is in pre-launch having been finished during NaNoWriMo and now I just have the re-writes to do (groans). I thought this would be a superb opportunity to get some first hand experience of having a book trailer made by a professional outfit at an affordable (for me) price.

I will keep my audience informed (so if either of you have any questions…) on the process and of course, post the final product here. So far I have received a professional contract and other communication and paid the fee, plus $75 for it to be formatted for Amazon.com as you need to be listed with the world’s biggest book distributor to have any chance of making money. I sent them the link to my book website, the cover art and a bio-blurb on me, an ‘elevator pitch’ about the novel and the signed contract. Now it is in the queue and no doubt things will begin to roll along soon.

Covers Sell The Story

I consider myself very fortunate to have met a client, mentor and now friend through one of those online job offering sites. In this case it was a great place called FiveUp. Through that client I have made new contacts, written some interesting material and more importantly for a working eWriter, been paid for it! I am a firm believer in paying things forward and having been passed around to others looking for what I do, I am pleased to be able to reciprocate.

Every book, whether eBook or tReebook needs a great cover. Covers sell the story, even when the first glimpse of the cover is via a one inch square image on a web site. The cover and the title are what grab the readers unless they already know the author and are looking for more of their writing. How they found the writer in the first place is either due to a friend referring them, a chance happening or…. the cover art and title!

I am no good with crayons, hence I write the stories. I do passable covers but they are obviously ‘home-made’, but then the investment in dollar terms is reflected in the result. I spend a lot of time on my covers but mostly because I suck at doing them and don’t have the real hot shot software that does the neat stuff. OK, I don’t really have the graphical creativity either. But there are those who do and they are rentable!

How much would you pay for the Art Director of  one of the big six publishers in New York? I’m talking someone who has over 20 years on the front line of major publishing like Bantam and its parent,  Random House. Someone who now teaches what they know at a prestigious arts and communications institution in the Bronx? If you said $1500 a cover you would be close. Because of the magic of our mutual friend who will remain nameless for now, this creativity and experience is available for just $250 a cover! But only through their listing on FiveUp and no doubt, only for a limited time as a favour to our mutual mentor.

I have several (all) of my covers that could do with the Glen Edelstein touch but I don’t have the budget. I do accept the cover will help sell more copies and so the budget will come, so I am putting in an order for one of my titles ASAP. I suggest anyone who has an eBook they are about ready to publish, or have published, should get onto Glen via FiveUp and book your cover. Once the summer is over I guess Glen will go back to teaching and his time will be limited, or the price will revert back to where someone of his ability should be. Be quick.

Ebooks – So Easy Everyone Is Doing Them

I have watched the growth in eBooks with interest. As something of a ‘pioneer’ during the Web 1.0 bad old days, I love how it is so much easier today to format them and then distribute them around the world. I use Smashwords.com to handle that end now. I gave up doing it all myself a few months ago and haven’t looked back. They distribute to Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Sony, Kobo and iTunes/iBooks for me. They take the money and act as an aggregator which, if you are not in the USA, makes life so much simpler. I still sell hardcopies and some eBook editions via Lulu.com, but not like before. I have streamlined the offerings in my author spotlight down. I sell far more eBooks than hard copy but then I am not trying very hard to push the paper.

Although so many web sites are telling you how easy it is to write and sell your eBook, is it really that simple? Compared to the ‘traditional’ route of finding a literary agent and then a publisher and so on, yes it is. For those who write rubbish, or what an agent or publisher might consider not commercially viable, it is a godsend. But is it really ‘easy’? Define what you consider difficult and we might have a better idea but overall I would say it is a lot easier than it once was but it is not easy to be any good at this.

You need to first of all write a book worth reading. Then it needs to be formatted properly, then offered for sale and of course, promoted to help people find it and buy it. There are many web sites offering instruction in how to be a better writer. Some of them are genuine and have the writer’s best interests at heart while others are making a buck from the desire of many to make their living as writers. Formatting a book for .mobi or .epub is not complicated but there are some definite rules to obey. Smashwords.com offer a superb free guide to how to do this and if you take the time to get the education they offer, you will learn a lot you can use everyday as well as when formatting eBooks. Once it is out there for the public to find and buy, the real hard work begins. Stay tuned for more on that end of the easy eBook exercise!

eBooks Set You Free!

Being able to write and publish your own work for many years meant either owning your own publishing house or using the services of a vanity press. Today, vanity press still exists although it is usually on the shady side of the publishing business. By that I mean the rates they charge are higher than what a printer would charge for the same item. This is because they usually offer all sorts of extra services like editing, layout, perhaps some marketing. Many merely pay lip service to these services and really just want a writer to pay them a lot of money to print off a hundred or so books with a nice margin in it for them. Whichever vanity press model you choose, the fact remains that the term ‘vanity press’ itself is derogatory, putting down the writer and implying their work would never be considered publishable by a mainstream publishing house. This is not fair or true.

Even the biggest publisher can only print so many titles each year. The other day one of the participants in my community college course ‘Eat Your Words – Making A Living As An Online Writer’ told me she knew a publisher who gets over 200 manuscripts a year and publishes just 20 of them. That is a small imprint and they probably focus on a specific genre. Even Random House only prints hundreds of titles, not thousands and they are one of the biggest publishing businesses in the world. A publisher needs to know they have a good chance of making money from each title they agree to publish. Even once printed the book needs to be promoted and sold and while they have the connections, it still often takes a lot of work on the writer’s part to help move books. Interviews on radio, television and book signing tours all take time and cost money. It is easier to leave that in the hands of a publisher than to undertake the selling of the book yourself and that is why many people never seriously consider self publishing, even if they don’t accept the ‘vanity’ tag, and they shouldn’t. Mark Twain self published and so did many other great writers.

Doing it yourself is a lot more work than just writing the manuscript but it is also something else. It is liberating, emancipating, it sets you free! You are the sole arbiter of whether the work is good enough to be published and you accept the economic risks, yet there are few real expenses with eBooks. Check out the information contained in ‘How Much Does An eBook Cost?’ and then decide for yourself if you think eBooks are the way to go to get your writing read.

Speed To Market

One of the considerations with any new product is the speed with which the manufacturer can get the product onto the market. In the case of an eBook, that can be a matter of hours from original concept to delivery to a paying customer. Depending on the size of the eBook to be written and remembering a lot of the content may already exist and merely require cutting and pasting, you can write a book in 20 hours and then format and publish in under sixty minutes. Having said that, there is something to be said for taking your time and double checking things. Many great writers advise once you have finished your manuscript you put it in a drawer and ignore it for a week or two. Then it will read very differently thanks to the magic of time and some metaphorical distance. It is amazing how you can read a manuscript a dozen times and not see something that leaps off the page at you either a week later or when the same words are printed on paper. The speed of events increases considerably when we leverage the technology we have in computers, word processing software, the internet and so on. We need to be aware of this and make sure we compensate for this speed with increased awareness of the need for accuracy and the risk we might easily fly by something important. Speed to market is one thing, but any time saved is wasted if we are forever recalling the product for fixing.

Network To Grow

It sometimes pays to keep a tight rein on things and control everything yourself and then there are the times when it is wiser to spread the load a little. In November I linked up via LinkedIn with Lorraine Cobcroft, who knows most of the things I don’t know and vice versa. We are looking at expanding the scope and value of the online writing courses I offer through a joint venture and I have to say her presentation skills have dazzled and delighted. She has a great deal of experience and expertise in taking a very dry document (my lecture notes) and making them into a visual feast. When you consider that people want value for money and will always choose the visually stunning over the drab, even when the content itself is identical, having a partner who can add that value to your written work is a huge PLUS! On top of the graphics bonus, Lorraine is also a gifted writer so I am confident we will be able to provide the market with a lot of value as we ramp things up. Check it out and give networking with other trusted professionals some thought. Sometimes the trick is knowing what you don’t know and where to find the person who does.

2012 Miles-Franklin Entry Published!

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology and good breeding (self discipline and a life of preparation in many ways) I wrote ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’ within the 30 days of November, as per the NaNoWriMo rules. I had help from critical friends who checked the manuscript, proofed and edited for me along the way so that once it was in the bag, it was simply a matter of getting up at 4am to start final proofing, editing and formatting. Then I published and it was done. In a week or so I will receive the first copies and send seven of them, along with the entry form and fee of $75 to the 2012 Miles-Franklin Prize committee. It is then, as they say, in the lap of the gods. At worst, it cost me a couple of bucks to add another experience to my collection of same and I have another novel for sale from my imprint. At best, I win the 2012 Miles-Franklin, $50,000 prize money and have a major best seller on my hands, at least in Australia.

Some might tut tut in disgust and moan how the book was written so quickly, surely it must be rubbish they will cry. Why? It is 50.173 words long. That averages less than 2,000 words a day and so long as you write that every day you will reach the target. The novel’s theme and general idea have been bouncing around inside my skull for some time and I have mind maps and other planning evidence I have been giving the matter some thought for some time. I had four people whose skills and opinions I trust and value proof the manuscript in chunks, as it was written.. Why wait until the very end to fix the typos and the odd bits that no longer read as you hoped they would when you wrote them? The cover image was obtained from my own front fence and it all tied in with the story, not surprising given the story is about where I live and the people who live here with me. Imaginary versions, anyway.

I have formatted dozens of books over the years and improved every time so I know what I am doing and the internet and Lulu.com and smashwords.com make it so much easier today than when I started doing this in 2003. Now I am working on the promoting and marketing of the book, a few more competitions to enter and whatever else I can do to make it sell a few copies before the M-F Prize is awarded mid 2012. Oh, I also have to stay alive until then because they don’t award it to deceased authors. Stella, I promise I will do my best not to join you up there anytime soon.

 

If I Had A Year’s Paid Vacation…

Harper Lee worked for several years as a reservations clerk for Eastern Airlines and B.O.A.C. (forerunner to British Airways) back in the 1950s. She wrote a few things, looked around for an agent and did all the things aspiring writers then, and to a degree, now, do. We’ll come back to those things in a paragraph or two. Harper was given a gift at Christmas 1956 of a year’s salary with the note;

“You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”

She took that year off and wrote one of the finest novels of the 20th Century, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

What would you do if you had that year, fully paid up and there for the taking? I sold up my house and most things I owned in the middle of 2002 and moved to the Philippines. My time was my own, at least for a year or so while my money held out. If I hadn’t lost a ton of it to evil business partners it would have lasted longer but the intention was to provide a passive income for years to come. Nevertheless, I have since recovered the lost few grand many times over selling a book that included the experiences of making a living in that corrupt environment so it was money well spent in a different direction.

I did manage to write and publish a book, StreetWise Philippines, later re-titled Philippine Dreams and this was my first eBook. I have learnt a considerable amount about writing, publishing, the internet and eBooks since then. If I could find a copy of the original eBook I think I would cringe in horror. The point is, although friends didn’t give me a year’s salary as a gift, I did manage to fund a year of Me-Time. I was living in a tropical ‘paradise’ and had nothing to do but what I wanted to do. My time was my own and that is a major element of any successful writing project. Time. Time free from having to worry about clocking on or finding the rent. Every writer should have that year and while most probably never will, it is something to aim for.

You can have all the ‘Me-Time’ you need to write what you have inside you that needs to come out. Most successful writers have had to plow on through jobs they hate to pay the rent while they wrote in their spare time. Louis L’Amour was a merchant seaman, boxer, farm hand and dock worker, Stephen King was a school janitor and George Orwell worked in a bookshop or tutored school children. I have done many jobs also, something many writers have in common because we were not earning our living writing and that was what we really wanted to be doing, hence we never stuck at any of the other things for more than a year or two at best. The up side is that it gives the writer tons of material to draw from, both for characters and plots, as well as setting. There are reasons why most first novels are at least partly autobiographical. ‘Liza of Lambeth’ and ‘Of Human Bondage’ both reflected W.Somerset Maugham’s own life and John Steinbeck drew from personal experiences for ‘Of Mice And Men’ and ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ while Orwell’s ‘Burmese Days’ was most definitely a product of his time as a policeman in Burma.

The thing Harper Lee did, by the way, was network. She renewed her childhood friendship with Truman Capote, the character in her book she called ‘Dill’. Capote was starting to become famous in literary circles and it was through him she met the Browns, Michael the Broadway composer and lyricist and his wife Joy. It was they who recognized the latent talent in Lee and gave her the gift that has kept on giving as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ has truly been a gift to literature. Who do you know who might be able to help your writing career? I’m not saying bleed them dry, it has to be a two way exchange but don’t be afraid to leverage your network. You might be surprised who many people, when they read your work, want to help you for their own reasons. Their own satisfaction in helping someone reach their potential. When you make it to the top, don’t forget to take a moment when you accept that Booker or Nobel to thank the ‘little people’, they will appreciate the thought.

 

When The Container Is Worth More Than the Contents

When I lived for several years in the Philippines I got used to drinking soft drinks out of plastic bags or else having to remain at the stall or roadside shop and drink the contents there and then. Taking the bottle away was unheard of because there was a deposit on the bottle and if the vendor was missing any, they had to pay for them. While drinks could be obtained at just about every other house along the road (known as ‘sari sari’ stores, most homes had one to augment income) they always sold the drinks in glass bottles, never in cans. Cans were only available at the swanky gas station chains and city stores. Even beer was sold at a certain price with an allowance made for the bottle in the price if you didn’t have empty bottles to swap for the full ones. Not so much a case of recycling enforced but simple economics. The containers were worth more than the contents.

When a small bottle of soft drink (soda) cost P7, or say 20 cents, the largest part of that cost would be the bottle and the distribution required to get it to the consumer, over a nation of 7000 islands. There had to be a margin of profit in that price, for both the retailer and the manufacturer and possibly also for a middle man agent. How much did the contents cost then? Obviously not much and much less than the bottle and other overheads. A similar amount of soft drink in a can, sold through other outlets, would be quite a bit more expensive, after all the container was then thrown away (although I guarantee all would be recycled and made use of by someone) and it was more prestigious to shop in a 7/11 than the local sari sari. Even the glass bottles had more than one use with 1 litre softdrink bottles used to sell oil and gasoline by roadside vendors. My wife’s favourite aunt actually works in a factory cleaning the bottles before they are returned to the soft drink manufacturer, so there is another pair of hands that has to get paid from that P7 (now P10 but then inflation hits us all, everywhere sooner or later).

So what is the point of this as far as eWriting is concerned? The thing is, we still value the container more than the contents when it comes to books. There are more costs associated in printing ink onto a collection of paper pages and binding them together than there is expense incurred in producing an electronic book. Nevertheless, we still, as a society, seem to think the same words printed on paper are worth more than if we were to read them on a screen or some other device. If the contents cost so little compared to the container and the process required to get the container into the customer’s hands and then back to the factory to be refilled, like with the softdrinks in the Philippines, then I would understand the mindset. The truth, however, is that the portion of the cost of a book that is directly related to the manufacture of the book and even the distribution, is not even half the RRP (recommended retail price). Printing the book accounts for around 10% of the rrp. Here is a break up I found at the blog ‘Kindle Review-Kindle Fire Review, Kindle 4 Review’

The very simple break-up is -

  1. Author – Creation. 8-15% Royalties.
  2. Publisher – Being the Curator, Polishing, Manufacturing, Marketing. 45-55% (includes Author’s Royalties).  Note that Printing accounts for just 10% of the book price.
  3. Distributor – 10%.
  4. Retailers – 40%.

I strongly suggest when you finish reading this you read that blog because it provides a superb overview of the costs of publishing a hard copy book. The contents of the book are more valuable than the container, if we look just at the physical cost of paper, ink and the process of putting the two together. Yet factor in the other expenses such as distribution, marketing, overheads and salaries and the ‘contents’, the bit that represents the creativity and hard work of the writer, is a fairly small segment of the overall cost to the consumer. The writer is lucky to get 15% of the rrp and often receives much less and of course, advances aside, if the book doesn’t sell they don’t make money.

Now we come to eBooks which have no paper and ink needed to be bought and turned into a book. There are still overheads and expenses but surely these are far less than the hard copy version of the same title. So how much is the eBook version worth? The container, as such, is virtually nonexistent. Of course we could say the Kindle or iPad is worth $X but then you can read 3,500 books on my Kindle. This works out about five cents a book, plus the power needed to read the thing, say ten cents a book and that is being generous. So if the book costs $2.99… that is a heck of a mark up. Or is it? You have to sell a lot of books at that price to make a million or two. Mind you, if that book retailed at say $29.99 and you, the writer get 8% of that, that’s just $2.39, about the same as what you get from the eBook. True you need to cover the marketing and promotional costs but putting the book up on Amazon.com is free and so are Tweets and other social media methods of marketing. Even allowing for your ongoing Internet expenses it is still a lot cheaper to sell an eBook at three bucks than to chase a big publishing house to sell your book for about the same return.

Now we just need the reader to value the contents of an eBook as much as they do the container or a printed hard copy edition and we have a revolution on our hands.

Why I Self Publish

For those of you who wonder why I self publish and prefer to, read this lecture I have prepared for my Become A Published Author course. It is all about speed to market and control and it has been worth learning the ropes to make it happen. I still think if you want to make a living as a writer you need to diversify and do other things (I lecture, tutor and develop units of learning for post graduate degree programs)or be one of the very, very few BIG NAME writers. Check it out by clicking on the link in the post or use the navigation bar as you prefer.