Some days are just….frustrating and eBooks continue to be, I’m sorry to say, a bit strange. I think authors and publishers need to be very cognizant of the fact that pulling eBooks off sale through different channels, whether to try an exclusive with some vendor or for some other reason has several negative consequences.
First of all you need to be aware that anyone who has purchased your book (including with a free coupon) will still own the book. The website they obtained the book from will still show it in their libraries and allow them to re-download it any time they want. And sometimes, some of these people, if they liked and enjoyed your book, may try to pass those links to your work on to other people they know. And the thing is, with those direct links their friends may be able to see the complete listing for your work. Only to be told it is not available through this outlet at this time if they try to buy it. This is not a warm fuzzy experience for prospective readers. ”Damn,” they might think, ”these eBooks are just flaky and unreliable.”
The fact is that experiences are cumulative and every time any one of us contributes to someone having a very negative experience with an eBook makes the overall market for all eBooks just a little bit tougher. In the past, it seems to me, authors and publishers truly invested in their relationships with book sellers. These days the very idea of being a bookseller seems almost antiquarian. Everyone and his brother has their web sites set up to link to that big company in Seattle that pays a pittance to any webmaster who drives traffic to their vast online stores. But making money by selling books that other people write? Very few would even attempt such a thing these days.
I had started off today talking with an author I really like very, very much, and idly planning a future promotion for a series of books she wrote. And spent so much time fussing with my tablet and trying here there and every where to get the information I wanted to I could buy and download and read another of these wonderful novels I’m genuinely excited about promoting. And I find myself all caught up in how badly smashwords sucks on my Android, and how frustrating it is to know you are searching with the correct title and author and to have even spelled them right on the relatively tiny android keyboard only to keep getting a blank page and it just doesn’t work today.
I am continuing to re-read Rita Mae Brown’s Loose Lips (in a wonderful hard cover edition I picked up Somewhere). I know there will be days I will again whip out my tablet, buy and download a great book and read away with great pleasure again. Today is Not that day for me. Here’s hoping it’s a nice weekend in your world.
On a recent post, Lisa Lavergen-Pottgen commented about the Apple vs Amazon dispute that has been getting a lot of play. I remarked that to me it seemed like a battle of two huge monopolists that has little to do with the concerns of ordinary readers and writers. I have always been a writer. I have found ways, over the years, to use my ability to write to make at times a great living, although my job title has never been Writer and others who held similar positions may have relied much more on verbal communications. But so long as I can still blog without having to provide audio, there continues to be a market for good writing, and anyone who can get a hold of a word processor and string together a noun and a verb has every bit as much chance of becoming a published author today.
I was so freaking excited about the eBook revolution. Writers can simply upload a word processor file, and in less than an hour usually it gets ”smashed” into a huge number of eBook file formats and within a few weeks is offered for sale in several major eBook vendors. Smashwords, in my considered opinion is a GREAT option for anyone who can put together a book. While I think it is important not to skimp on things like a copy editor, a proofreader and professional graphics, the fact is that Smashwords makes it possible to publish to pretty much everyone. There is such huge potential here, that those of you who did not grow up in an era when most writers spent most of their time querying and pitching editors in places like New York and hoping to be chosen from the slush pile. I have to be honest and point out that this ease of access to electronic publishing means that there is a LOT of dreck out there. The sad fact is there was a good reason so, so many of those writers out there never could get through to Big Publishing. Their work really wasn’t that good.
I am proud to publish all of my work with Smashwords and hope that I will continue to draw readers like you for many years to come. I remain very excited about my new project and look forward to putting in a lot of hard work and carefully planning an introduction and will soon set out on developing a whole new audience, completely from scratch. I am half nervous that this is going to be Really hard and half excited about the plan I am formulating to make it work.
I’ve written before about the plethora of free eBooks I have found on Amazon since getting my tablet, and about my concerns that free is not a viable price point for writers. So I thought I would mention that I actually gave into the temptation the other day and bought an eBook for $2.99. I had downloaded and read a free copy of Rebecca Forster’s legal thriller Hostile Witness. It was a good book. Forster writes well and succeeds in drawing complex characters with rich and believable back stories and does an excellent job of plotting a suspenseful novel full of twists and turns right up to the very last page. I enjoyed the story so much that after reading the sample of the next volume in the series, Silent Witness, I clicked and bought it from Amazon.
My friend Susan Wells Bennett, an #indie novelist, whose latest release Night Life is a Kindle exclusive right now, has suggested that authors may be well served by having a new book in the KDP exclusive program for a single ninety day period. Though Susan definitely feels that it would be a mistake to keep all of one’s books permanently in KDP. Savvy readers will know that more free days will be coming and many may opt to wait rather than pay for the book. The abundance of free books is what makes me worry that readers will become so accustomed to the price point free that they will simply completely stop buying books. I will certainly be interested to ask Susan and other authors about their experience with KDP and whether or not they believe giving the book away free for five days out of ninety is helpful in driving paid sales.
I am convinced that big publishing is making a huge mistake in pricing back list fiction in eBook format at $9.99 or more. I continue to believe that three to five dollars is a sweet spot price where authors can drum up real sales and build a paying audience. I hope that more authors will be savvy and not release more than a sample or a single volume at the free price point. I also hope that authors will continue to use Smashwords to make their books available from a number of different vendors and not let Amazon become a monopoly in the eBook market. AND I’m pleased to say that I am starting work today on a new fiction project. Here’s hoping it’s a great day in your world, too.
While I love my new tablet and have a number of eBooks downloaded and ready to read, I have found myself re-reading old-fashioned paper books this weekend. Back in 2009 I received an advanced reading copy of Michael Connelly’s thriller The Scarecrow. Advanced reading copies were one of the nicer things that big publishing used to do for book sellers and book reviewers. Released only to the aforementioned specialized readers prior to hard cover publication, these were trade paper back versions with the same art as the dust jackets of the forth coming book. I got my very first ARC, of Michael Chabon’s debut novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh way back when I was a book store clerk in New Orleans. I quite enjoyed that novel and did my best to sell it once it was published. Sadly, less than three years after the publication date The Scarecrow is no longer available from Amazon in any print format.
In addition to The Scarecrow, I have also this weekend been re-reading Gary Jennings’ Spangle– a trilogy of novels about a circus troop in the days following the US Civil War and their travels in Virginia and across Europe and Russia. I first read these novels many years ago and have held on to the paperbacks, which I have enjoyed re-reading many, many times. Good stories, I have found, age well and continue to entertain and delight all these years after I first read them. One good thing about eBooks I am realizing is that they are mine forever, with no need to keep and save a relatively fragile physical artifact. Both Smashwords and Amazon allow readers to re-download any eBook they have acquired. Even when (inevitably) I have to replace my laptop or my tablet, the books I’ve acquired can be downloaded again onto whatever new devices I may purchase. In my heart I strongly suspect that I will always continue to cherish and re-read old paper books. But I have to say I really am genuinely excited about the new world of eBooks.
I remember reading a few years back an article discussing the worries of writers and publishers about eBook piracy. The fears expressed in that article, that books would soon be subjected to the same large scale piracy the music and movie industries have been fighting for some time now seemed frankly overblown to me. Though who could have imagined that free would become the new default price point for books.
I have been very much enjoying my new tablet as an eReader. I have read a number of books already and have several more downloaded and waiting for my attention. I have not actually bought and paid for any books so far. As a book reviewer, I have long had a firm policy of not buying books. It’s just so much easier to tell any author friends who ask that I just can’t ever under any circumstances buy, and if they want me to review it they’ll have to send me a review copy. The review copies, which I have at times received from publishers, publicists and authors themselves have been a great perk for being a book reviewer. (Though the fact is I don’t have all that much space and I regularly donate most of the review copies I’ve received to the friends of the library.)
Since getting my tablet I have downloaded scores of eBooks, most all of them at the price point free. As a reader, I can’t help but be pleased. I’ve known of course that authors who enroll their book in Amazon’s exclusive program pick I believe two free days for promoting their book. I also noticed that Amazon has many out of copyright older books– which have been available through Project Gutenberg for some time, in their listings. Another thing I’ve found a lot of are series mystery novels, where only the first in the series is offered free. And I’ve been genuinely amazed at how many free books there are. I have to say as a writer it frightens me a bit. I’ve long felt that #indie writers were going to eat big publishing’s lunch, because New York has been greedy and short-sighted about eBook pricing. But if readers can get their fill for free, why would anyone buy a book anymore? It seems to me that authors need to re-think how much they are giving away.
So I was talking to my friend Hartley (aka PetLvr) about Pinterest. It seemed to me to be yet another sort of cool, sort of so/so photo sharing site. And then he showed me the pin for his book. “That’s nice,” I thought. Then he showed me how the pin is linked to the book’s actual download page. He asked me for my book’s landing page, and then added a pin for it. It took me only moments then to realize, hey this is WAY cool. My friend and I just made a bookstore. And it’s a bookstore that could get lots of casual browsers if only we got a bunch of other folks to join us.
I’m looking for authors who are willing to let me promote their books. Your e-book or print book must already be for sale at a unique URL. You will only need to permit me to pin a picture of your book cover and link it to where you’re already selling it. If it’s on Smashwords or Amazon please note that I will use affiliate links and earn a tiny commission, though I am happy to feature ebooks that are offered for download from your own web site or even books that are sold, but not on Smashwords or Amazon. As long as you have a decent book cover image and a unique sales URL, you’re in!
Just leave a comment with your book’s URL and I will take care of the rest. That Pinterest makes a great free virtual storefront may not be what the folks who created it intended, but it seems perfect for this use, at least for books with colorful covers. I am thinking that this could be a great way for lots of us #indie authors and bloggers to promote our work– as Hartley pointed out we can All re-pin each other’s books and the links to the sales pages will endure no matter how many times you re-pin the book cover image. This is a great example of a friend showing me how to use a tool that had not seemed very useful to me before. And you know, maybe Michael is right that all of the tools he promotes really are necessary for a serious social networker. But honestly, I think it’s more likely that as my friend Stu Rader (aka 12flat of Olivia International) observed the other day:
“ For a company, brand or client I whole-heartedly endorse a social media manager to have a central focus to a max of say 4 top level outlets from within a central hub. The hub should be a collaborative cloud or internal web based network/intranet. The front door to their business online is the Web site. Facebook personal profile is pretty obvious, G+ is gaining the momentum for businesses that cannot be ignored in 2012. Quora is a great place for an executive and brand/product manager to field questions about a product or service, since it does not allow business aliases. Facebook page with a possible tumblr feeding in. You notice I didn’t say Twitter, though we re-publish to it from #fb. Way too much IM noise/short link affiliate types there but fun when you’re bored. The above all applies to sole proprietorships and mega corps with many business units. “
I greatly admire Michael‘s perseverance, and honestly I don’t ever actually expect to “win” our little argument. I’m not a fan of all the sites Stu talks about– you may remember that I hated G+ and canceled my account on that network months and months ago; I also have never tried or used Quora. And while I acknowledge what Stu said about the spammy short links and noise on Twitter, I think that Twitter can be a very powerful tool for businesses and activists alike I don’t think there is nor can be any “one size fits all” answer for marketing, social networking or anything else. But I am dead certain that no individual or company can afford to be everywhere.