Category Archives: eBook Publishing

The Return Of The Short Story

Screenshot 2014-01-30 11.09.45Short stories and novellas (say 20-40,000 words) are on the way back, which is great news on so many levels. I love writing short stories as you can write it and have it read in a lot less time and effort than it takes for a novel (say 50,000 words and up). Novels have not always been in existence and a lot of the ‘formula’ for novels was set by the commercial realities publishers have to face to make a profit.

There are valid reasons why books are the way they are and more has to do with what sells than the story that needs telling. The ‘airport blockbuster’ of 500 to 800 or so pages is not really ideal for reading on a plane, but a short story or collection of them is. You can dip in and out as you like whereas a novel is a commitment that too often the rigors of a journey don’t allow you to enjoy. The reality is there is a certain investment per book, regardless of length that must be met. An extra two or three hundred pages is the least of the costs to be considered. When buying a book, people are more likely to think they are getting value from one that would stop a bullet compared to what used to be the norm for novels 30 or 40 years ago.

Electronic publishing, eBooks, has changed all of that and much more as well. You can now download a short story or collection of short stories to your eReader or other device and the overhead, while remaining pretty much the same for a traditional publisher, is virtually nothing for indie publishers and self publishing authors. Even with professional editing and other out sourced help, the investment is in the hundreds of dollars rather than the tens or even hundreds of thousands.

Short stories can also be good loss leaders, introducing a reader to an author so that they go on to buy their novels and other writing. Stephen Leather, a favourite author of mine, does this very well, offering short stories for free or just a buck and including links to his latest releases. I recall over a decade ago reading, for free, his superb look at the seamy side of Bangkok life in ‘Private Dancer’, a book his publisher claimed would never sell, Stephen offered it for free as a download (this was way before Kindle et al) and after however many thousands of downloads, his publisher saw the error of his ways and now the book is available in print as well as online, but no longer for free. We exchanged emails about this and of course, Stephen was very genuine and approachable as I have found all the ‘big name’ authors to be. We are, after all, just ordinary people with a brilliant talent… (shameless inclusion of self, there)

The great thing about short stories is that you can offer them for free to promote other work and you are not giving away the ‘farm’ or devaluing your work. You can sell them for 99 cents or compile them into an anthology and add a couple of bucks to the rrp. The really big news is that short stories are selling once again and that has to be a good thing for readers and writers. None of which, of course, takes away from the necessity to write a good story and to present it as error free as possible in a professional manner. After all, if you are charging money then you are a professional and everything you put your name to should reflect that.

 

 

Street Lit Now Included on Wikipedia

Slide1The entry on Urban Literature (aka Street Lit) on Wikipedia includes a mention of Australian author Perry Gamsby and his three Street Lit novels, ‘The Cool Side of the Pillow‘, ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’ and ‘Never Be Unsaid’. While most urban lit is of African-American or Latino origin, Perry adds an Australian voice to the gritty, edgy street lit genre.

As part of the StreetWise Publications 2014 Marketing Plan, all cover art is being reviewed with ‘The Cool Side of the Pillow’ and ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’ being the first to receive new covers. Additionally, a book trailer is being made for ‘Never Be Unsaid’ and advertising on FaceBook and LinkedIn is being trialled.

As any eWriter knows, writing the book is the easy part. Selling it, promoting and marketing; that is where the real hard work begins.

Vanity Press – Still The Vampires of the Writing World?

I have no issue with vanity press publishers; many great authors self-published their work including Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. The term ‘vanity press’ is itself somewhat pejorative, suggesting the writing is not good enough to be accepted by a mainstream (or traditional as some say) publishing house and so the author must pay to have it published themselves. Not true. The reality is that traditional publishing houses are inundated with manuscripts and must choose those they feel are commercially viable, it’s simply economics.

Vanity press is not a social stigma, more so these days that anyone can publish their own work or the work of others and many independent publishers, like me, can do pretty much what thebig boys can do. We just don’t have the marketing department, the many connections and the money behind us but then we don’t have the overhead either. POD or print on demand publishing companies like Lulu.com and CreateSpace.com (and others such as Lightening Source et al) have levelled the print playing field while KDP.com and smashwords.com have done great things for electronic publishing. What was once considered the ‘hippy land’ or New Age of publishing is now as mainstream and respected as any of the Big Six (or Five).

Yet the traps are still out there waiting to catch the unwary and the naive. I came across one the other day and have written about it in more depth on a page all of its own titled ‘Vanity Press’ to make it easy to find. Make no mistake, what they are offering is not illegal as far as I can see and for many it will offer a worthwhile solution to their publishing dilemma. It is simply not worth it in my opinion, but then I do this for a living and have learned things most first time authors don’t yet know (much as I was pretty clueless when I published my first eBook in 2003). Even for those who are time poor or haven’t a clue about how to self publish, this is not the great option they might think it to be and I explain why. In detail and I drill down the numbers to show there is nothing to be gained by the writer and everything by the publisher. Check it out.

Legal Deposit Laws

Where I live in Australia we have laws that state a copy of every book published here must be deposited with the National Library in Canberra (the capital) and also with the state library of wherever the publisher or author if self-published, is based. In my case that would be Sydney. The thing is, technically speaking I would have to legally deposit three copies. One to the State Library, one to the library of state parliament and another to the library of Sydney University. In reality the state parliament library only wants a copy if the book is about the government (so I was told) and Sydney Uni have their own preferences.

I received a letter telling me the State Library wanted a copy of ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’ which I have to deposit under the Legal Deposit Provisions of the New South Wales Copyright act. If I deposited a copy of every title I have published I would be up for a ton of money for no benefit to me. So I rang the number on the letter and spoke to a lovely bloke called Simon. Apparently the fact I had already deposited with the national Library was irrelevant. Nor would they pay the postage or give me free parking were I to deliver it. Then I mentioned that the book was actually published by Lulu.com in the USA. No worries! No longer eligible for inclusion under the Act!

While many who take the ISBN given freely by Lulu.com when they publish through them fear losing control of their book (not possible), the fact the ‘publisher’ is listed as Lulu.com and not, in my case StreetWise Publications, whoever is a good thing. All an ISBN does is make it easier for book distributors to track their inventory. It does not make the book ‘legitimate’, nor does it give away your copyright, anywhere. It just helps a picker to find it when someone orders the thing or for a book store to know how many copies they still have in stock.

While I fully support our state libraries I have to say I can’t afford to be handing out free copies of my books willy nilly just so the Act is obeyed and these books sit gathering dust in an archive somewhere. In time eBook versions will be accepted and do a better job, not to mention taking up a lot less space.

 

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.

Who Are The Big Six?

I borrowed the title from a blog post by Dean Wesley Smith, a writer who has literally dozens of books and short stories published both trade and self. If you want to invest several hours of your time in personal education of a professional kind, read his blogs and follow the links to the blogs he refers to. To my ears, he speaks a lot of sense and his blog about the ‘Big Six’ of publishing is spot on. I won’t second guess that blog, go and read it and learn something, just like I did.

What I will discuss is how we tend to form opinions and then let them set themselves in place like fast drying concrete. Before you know it, you can’t budge from that point of view. In fact to do so makes you feel insecure, even stupid for having held the view in the first place. The louder you defended that position, the harder it is to say maybe I was wrong. At the very least, I now have new data and have adapted my initial position.

As I age I hope I am finding it easier to let go of what I once believed to be the absolute truth. Usually though it is the opposite. Young people tend to be staunch supporters of the last book they read or lecture they attended, movie watched or whatever. That was the be all and end all and is the only opinion to hold. Then when they get older, middle aged and beyond, they form their opinions and remain glued to them because now with age they have wisdom and thus, can never be wrong.

As a writer I challenge that. I say I can be wrong. I will defend my position staunchly and articulately until someone comes along with a more reasoned argument and then I will evaluate and adjust accordingly. It doesn’t mean you have to be wishy washy and blow with the wind. It doesn’t mean you have to defend a dogma deep down you know is flawed to say the least. It means that you are prepared to stand by your beliefs until such time as those beliefs are found to be up for adjustment. To my mind that says more about you in a positive way than if you were right 100% of the time because that is impossible. Nobody can be right all the time and even those who are aren’t in the minds of people who analyse the situation using different criteria or processes.

Writers above everyone else by dint of our role as attitude adjusters, must be willing to adjust our own attitudes when faced with new information that might turn everything we have believed up to that point on its head, but we can’t deny the validity. It is hard and it hurts but it has to be done. It’s our job. Pain comes with the territory.

According to my research, the ‘Big Six’ are Random House, Penguin, Macmillan, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins. When you see how many imprints they have under their individual umbrellas it really is mind blowing but… independent small publishers and author-publishers can compete now we have the force multiplier called the Internet.

Eat The Rich

First of all the censorship of a certain category of books under threat at Smashwords and elsewhere by PayPal is not driven by Smashwords or PayPal. I am disgusted to read that some writers of this category have been abusing and accusing Mark Coker, Smashwords founder and CEO, of being responsible. Even PayPal is not the culprit, it is the credit card providers and thus the banks behind them. Once again the big bankstas hit the little guy.

This is about hurting the indie book publisher, make no mistake. I was accused last night of being a conspiracy theorist because I believe there is a valid argument that the big publishers, who put a lot of business through the banks, have exerted pressure for the banks to force credit/debit card payment processors like PayPal to cut out this category. It is part of a category that has seen major growth from indie publishers and and writers. Obviously it threatens the bottom line of the big publishers. If they weren’t afraid they wouldn’t attack. This is why it didn’t happen four of five years ago. Back then the indie publishing industry was not a big enough threat to their control of the industry. Now eBooks and self-published/small publishing house books are threatening their domination.

Amazon doesn’t use PayPal but they do use credit cards so expect them to be next, if they haven’t already banned the relevant category. This is censorship by stealth,this is monopolizing by the back door. It happened before in teh good ole US of A. A few years ago they snuck the IMBRA bill in on the back of a bill nobody could argue against,one for the protection of women in domestic violence situations if I recall. But IMBRA attacked penpal sites that introduced US men to foreign women. The excuse was because these women are exploited and murdered and sadly a few have been. But so too foreign men marrying women in Russia and the Philippines and elsewhere once they realise the woman was already married and just after a Greencard and their money. Abuse was two way and neither is right but the IMBRA law only targeted the little guy. Big penpal service providers like Yahoo Groups and other didn’t have to comply, only the little ones, usually run by a US man and his foreign bride wife to help other women from her area find a foreign husband and escape poverty, have a better life etc. The bill was hidden at the back of a huge document, passed at 3am or something and was basically a way for the big penpal agencies to get rid of the small time competition. It was the sneaky way the power was wielded that upset many. This is no different. Again the big power wields its might to club the little guy.

Plenty of people see nothing wrong with this,that this is the way of the world, that credit providers have the right to choose who they will do business with and who they won’t. They are correct, but they are not right. This is not right because it is an abuse of power. It is ‘might equals right’ at work.Yes it is the way of the world but that doesn’t mean we should accept it. The world has been a tough place since Day 1 but we have fought hard to make it a better place to be. We used to have 6 yer olds working 14 hour days in the Poorhouse for the debts of their parents but not any more. We used to treat our women little differently in many ways to how they still suffer in tribal areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and even in urban areas of these and other countries, but not any more. We used to consider our women as chattel goods the husband or oldest brother could do with as they wished, even marry them off and keep any payments, but not any more.

I could go on but the message is surely clear. This is the thin edge of the wedge. Now it is a certain category dealing with three or four specific subjects. What’s next? Who’s next? Will the banks deny credit to small pharmacies? Little mom and pop corner stores? Will they claim these family businesses often exploit the children of the owners, forcing them to work behind the counter after school and this is their moral justification? Or any small business because the owners don’t employ enough people or some other, spurious justification to wipe out the little guys. Let’s face it, even with computers dong all the work, it is easier to have a handful of huge clients like Wal-Mart and Costco than it is to have hundreds of thousands of small stores putting their take through their accounts every business day.

Bottom line, don’t blame the wrong people, fire your arrows and throw your brickbats at the right target, the mega rich banks and the mega rich bankers. Not the teller behind the counter trying to hold onto her job as more and more jobs are cut and sent overseas. Not the help desk person who is one of the few left in your own country as more and more jobs are outsourced to people who might speak English, but it isn’t the same language. Not their fault and they are only trying to feed their families too. No, blame the rich who are not like you and me and can’t comprehend how we can not accept we are here to serve them. Didn’t someone once say “eat the rich”? I know what they meant.

 

How To Get Published

I have been given permission to reprint some very sage advice from Deb McAlister-Holland, who is pretty switched on when it comes to marketing as well as being a published author of some repute. It sets out what you should include in your query letter to sell your book or manuscript idea to an agent or publisher and never doubt you are selling them your writing. If they can’t see the commercial viability of the book they will not publish. They try not to lose money on purpose. It is aimed at those going for a printed book but the advice holds true for eBooks too. Give it a read, then apply the lessons and good luck!

Fake Reviews

I have just downloaded and read an ‘eBook’ called ‘Fake!‘ by Graham Murray of Living Books USA. He blows the lid on those unscrupulous swines that fake reviews for their eBooks, usually free ones that are absolute rubbish. Graham goes into detail as to how you can tell these fakers, usually they are the top ‘Highest Rated’ authors on the list but they don’t deserve to be there.

This faking of reviews is a by-product of the revolution in writing and publishing that is the eBook. Today just about anybody can write and publish their work online and call themselves a writer. In time, quality will show and the dross will fall by the wayside. More and more readers will learn how to detect the trash before they waste their most precious commodity on these eBooks. Not their money, especially as most of these fakes are free, which shows what they are worth to their writer, but their time.

I was glad I stumbled on Graham’s site. I also downloaded two other freebies and bought an eBook, ‘The Definitive Guide To Using Smashwords As Your eBook Distributor’. It has a ton of good info within and for just $0.99 it is terrific value. As well as the very helpful info, I learned a few things, too. First of all I have offered many of my titles at a discount using Smashwords Coupons and will monitor this to see if it helps sales.

Another thing I have noticed was how Graham has 60 titles, but these are not full length novels or even novellas. They are short stories, 4-7,000 words in length and just $0.99. I think there is some merit in this strategy and will be offering selected short stories and small anthologies at the same price. I will also look at producing some useful non-fiction documents, some free and some at just $0.99. The mix should help generate downloads and from them, sales and from those, regular readers.

This is a good example of taking note of what other people are doing and, if it seems to make sense, giving it a try yourself. One thing I would like to know is how Graham does his covers. They are all very well put together, even for the free offerings. I am not a graphics person but I can give it a go and I think it is a skill any writer/publisher should master. The other skill is marketing and that is the big focus for 2012.

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!