Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction

This is the first post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction (this post)
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

One of the thing I've been interested in for some time is selling my book (should be books soon) online. I'd already been doing some research into this, so thought I'd share my findings and investigative work through a new series. The series will likely cover e-book formatting, book covers and why they're important, and, last but certainly not least, the various online retailers that allow you to showcase your work and therefore skip the traditional publishing process entirely.

Selling without a publisher (i.e., self-publishing) is nothing new, but it seems only recently with the advent of popular e-readers that the possibility for e-books has really opened up. We're very possibly at the beginning of a new, mainstream medium for consuming literature, and there's no doubt the publishing game is changing. But going it alone sans agent or publisher isn't easy. Fortunately, there are online partners with whom we can collaborate: while you provide the content, they provide the showcase by which you can present your work. They, of course, take a percentage of your sales in exchange for this service.

Whether that is a fair trade or not is a matter of opinion (rates vary by partner site), but I think it helps to look at what these sites provide you. I mean, we all have web sites or blogs upon which to host the electronic versions of our books. So what are they providing that merits sharing the profit from a sale?

1.) Eyeballs

This one can't be stressed enough. As writers, we work in obscurity until we find representation or a big name publisher, or we work our way up through lesser known channels until we've built a following. Either way, we all start small, which means we probably aren't getting all that much traffic to our web sites. Online retail sites, like Amazon, for example, give us the opportunity to put our work in front of a lot of people who otherwise might never know it existed.

2.) Ratings

They also provide (in most cases) a means by which readers can rate our work. While this can be a two-edged sword in its own right, what we gain is essentially a third-party that removes the suspicion of impropriety were we to host such a facility on our own site.

3.) Community

Some online retailers create a community atmosphere around their product offerings. Scribd Community is one. Amazon Communities is another. You can gain support from others also trying to do well with this avenue, build a following, and connect with readers.

4.) They handle the transaction

They collect the dough, then send you your cut either at set intervals or, more likely, when a certain threshold is surpassed. The exact threshold varies by partner site. This has the nice benefit that you do not have to deal with providing a secure site in which to collect payment information, worry about storing such information for return visits, deal with the case where merchandise is returned (can you return an e-book?), etc.

Those all seem like good reasons to me, and well worth sharing the proceeds of a sale.

With that, I'll leave you with this introductory post for now. Look for Part 2 sometime soon.

Some thoughts on traditional vs electronic publishing

You may have noticed a recent slant in my posting topics towards e-books and electronic publishing. This is not without purpose. For a while now I've been considering foregoing the traditional publishing route in favor of the electronic, self-publishing one. The reasons for this are many. For one, it's disheartening (yet encouraging at the same time) when established writers divulge sales information that poignantly dismisses the traditional route.

Second, this writing thing is not my only thing. It's something I thoroughly enjoy, yet I don't expect to make a living from it. I'm not saying I wouldn't want to make a living from it, but the realities are that my day job will likely always pay more, and I'm at the point in my life where I'm not willing to downsize or give-up my lifestyle (such as it is). Perhaps going the traditional route is a game for the young. Or perhaps it just isn't the route to take at all anymore, at any age, because the direction of things has changed.

Traditional vs. Electronic Publishing

Currently, I don't have a publisher. Nor do I have an agent. In truth, I wonder sometimes if I really need either. You see, the rules themselves have been altered. No longer do writers need to rely solely on publishers for exposure and distribution. Sure, publishers can give your career a boost out of the starting gate. But so much of it relies on the author taking it from there that the publisher/agent model soon becomes a hindrance and, in some cases, a detriment: while said writer is engaging in all the work, guess who's siphoning off the majority of the profit?

However, there's no doubt publishers have the potential to raise the bar in terms of quality. I'll be the first to admit that you have to wade through a lot of junk on the Kindle store, for example, before you find quality in the "self-published bin" (there's not really a "self-published bin", by the way). Publishers therefore have the potential to act as gatekeepers, holding back the stuff that probably shouldn't be seen by readers until it's been polished a bit more.

While I admire and envy those who have found success via the traditional publishing route, I'm seriously considering that it might not be right for me. I already have a day job; the reality of the situation is that I'll always be more self-sustaining doing that than writing. But I love putting words to paper, and especially concocting fantastic stories and the characters that populate them. Fortunately, there is hope for people like myself, and it is e-books.

E-books

E-books and the proliferation of high-quality e-reading devices are becoming the new medium for reading. Paper books will no doubt have their place for years to come, but it is a dying model. The world has gone green, and convenience coupled with instant gratification is a powerful driving force. Amazon, for example, touts their Kindle reading device with 3G wireless with this line: "...think of a book and you'll be reading it in less than 60 seconds". Competition in the e-reader space is growing every day. This, in turn, will continue to drive prices down. With many e-books already selling for $0.99, and price battles going on between the major players, this becomes a win-win for consumers.

But it's also a win for writers. Amazon, Scribd, even our own web sites become our distribution warehouses and provide the exposure we might not otherwise obtain. The middle-men—namely publishers and agents—are taken out of the equation. With more hands removed from the pot, the shares of those remaining gets bigger.

However...

Going electronic is not for everyone. For one, it's unlikely you can make a living off it (yet). But then everyone's definition of 'living' is a bit different, so a decision of this nature really becomes a personal one.

It's not an easy decision to make, either. I wonder in that you don't risk alienating yourself from ever breaking into the traditional model by jumping into the electronic one. Maybe that doesn't matter.

Of course, what I'm really talking about here is self-publishing, which has been around for a long time. Some authors (Paolini comes to mind) self-published, only to find great success under the traditional model after the fact. Is electronic publishing therefore any different?

[ Advertisement: SF/F Shorts by Amazon ]

[ Follow me on Twitter ]

It's bad all over

Opened up my feed reader to find this post by Jason Sanford where he says:

In only the last few weeks, we've learned that

On top of that, Asimov's and Analog last year changed to a new format that was more economical to print, while Locus and NYRSF have both recently asked for more subscribers to keep their financials solid. Add this in with problems in the magazine distribution business and cut backs in the book publishing industry, and it isn't hard to see how more bad news could come down in 2009 for written SF/F.

Some of that I'd heard about, but Realms of Fantasy, one of my favorite magazines, closing? Sure enough, go to their web page and you'll see:

Dear Readers: We're sorry to report that the April 2009 issue of Realms of Fantasy Magazine will be the last. Thank you very much for your support these many years!

If you have a remaining subscription to Realms of Fantasy, you can choose one of three options:

-Transfer your subscription on a remaining issue by issue basis to SCI FI Magazine.

-Transfer your subscription on a remaining issue by issue basis to OTAKU USA Magazine.

-Get a refund for the remaining issues left on your Realms of Fantasy subscription.

To tell us about your choice, click on this link to our customer service department. Make sure to include your full name and address. Thank you.

There's perhaps no better reminder that publishing is a business than when doors start closing and someone wraps the proverbial chain and padlock around the door handles.

Response Times: Why do we put up with them?

253955_6684 (Large)

So I go to check my email the other day and what do I find at the top of the list but an email from Baen Books. It took me a few seconds to figure out what it was all about. Then I remembered: about a year ago, I sent them a copy of the The Hall of the Wood for review; the email was a rejection of my novel. I think their guidelines mention "about a year" on their response times, so give them points for sticking to that. But it was still a bit of a shock to (finally) get a response back, especially since I'd forgotten I'd even sent my novel to them!

I wonder: why do we put up with such lengthy response times?

The easy answer is because we have to if we want to see our work in print. It's just one of the realities of the publishing industry.

The long answer is that we really don't have to put up with it at all. There are other mediums in which to publish our work: self-publish, POD, Amazon Kindle, our own web sites or blogs, our MySpace page, Facebook, lulu.com... the list goes on.

But this approach lacks something: validation. Anyone can write. Anyone can think their writing is good. But to have someone else read our "stuff" and approve... that's what we're striving towards. That's the golden apple. Not to mention we get something else that's critical to the success of our writing success: the marketing and resources of a "real" publisher. Now, maybe money isn't important to you, but for those of us who have hopes of someday doing the writing thing full-time, it's paramount.

So we put up with publishers' response times. Fortunately, most are much quicker than Baen's one year.

Unpublished Writers: Web Sites and Blogs Recommended

image

Agent Kristin of PubRants fame talked yesterday about web sites and blogs, and if unpublished writers should have either or both.

Something I've often wondered about is whether or not an agent or publisher bothers to look at a writer's site. I know I've read in the past about specific ones who do not; Agent Kristin lays this question to rest (inasmuch as she's concerned, anyway):

"When reviewing sample pages where we like the writing, we’ll often give the writer website a glance and see what’s there. I don’t bother if the sample pages haven’t caught my interest."

She goes on to offer a few tips:

"Don’t have a website/blog unless it can be a professional one. The homemade sites look it and just make me cringe. It won’t keep me from asking for your full (or if I like the novel, offering representation) but it’s not putting your best foot forward and that’s never a benefit."

This is a given. We're not aspiring to become professionals--we already are professionals; we want our web site or blog to reflect that. Choose colors that are easy on the eyes. Use a layout that makes sense. There are a ton of resources available on the web that discuss how to choose color schemes or even ones that generate one for you. If you're using WordPress or Blogger or, if you've chosen to be a little more adventurous like me and opted to use BlogEngine.NET, choose a theme that both complements your message while maintaining a professional look.

Content? Agent Kristin says:

"...the standard. About you, what you are working on, any cool interests you have that might inspire your writing, workshops you are doing, critique partners or anything about the writing process."

And the most important aspect of our blogs and web sites:

"...remember that the writing you have there needs to be representative of you and your good work. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you shouldn’t blog if the writing doesn’t represent your “usual” quality."

We've all read about the job candidate whose prospective employer decided to take a look at their blog... keep the content professional and relevant but, more importantly, put your best quality out there. If you're still learning the craft (we all are), think of your blog as a way to hone your writing skills. Use the same attention to detail when writing blog entries as you do when writing your "stuff". Do a rough draft, revise, proofread. If you happen to be looking through an old post and notice a typo or some other oddity, fix it. Our blog entries remain forever, indexed by Google and other search engines, so who knows when someone is going to access that post you wrote 2 years ago. Make sure that first impression is as good a one as if that person landed on your current home page or latest blog entry.

Now I need to practice what I preach and do some proofreading of my own on this post.

Good luck with your writing.