Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

ePublishing Predictions for 2013

The past year has been interesting to say the least. A lot has happened in the world of ePublishing and more people are reading electronically than ever before. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to predict that eBooks and eReading in general will continue to do well in 2013.

I’m no expert in the field, but I've got this crystal ball I rented, and while the images it's showing me are pretty fuzzy, I thought I'd go out on a limb with some predictions. If nothing else it should be fun to re-visit this a year from now just to see how wrong I was.

Here goes…

1. Amazon does away with the 70% royalty rate for authors who do not enroll in KDP Select

KDP Select is Amazon’s opt-in program for authors who wish to have their books enrolled in the Kindle Lending Library. Amazon Prime subscribers can borrow any eBook in the library for free. Amazon then pays the author for each borrow. It was a good deal from the author’s perspective when it came out, but Amazon has gradually reduced the effectiveness of certain aspects of the program while holding steady with the exclusivity clause which requires authors to remove their eBooks from other retailers.

Amazon already requires enrollment in KDP Select for certain international markets if an author wishes to get the highest royalty of 70%. In 2013, I think Amazon is going to require enrollment in KDP Select across the board in order to earn that rate. Otherwise, an author will only earn 35%, which right now is the rate for eBooks selling below $2.99. Amazon is on a mission of world domination. Unfortunately I think a lot of indie authors are going to get run over in the company’s attempt to crush the competition.

2. Publishers begin competing directly with indies at the $2.99 price point

I don't think the big, traditional publishers are ever going to sell new eBook releases for anything lower than around $7.99 (though $9.99 seems to be their new normal). But they have such a large number of back-listed titles that I think once they realize the gold mine they're sitting on they'll start releasing these in increasing numbers and at lower and lower prices. The $0.99 – $4.99 price range has been the bastion of indie writers up until now. In 2013, I think these price points will come under siege as the Big 6 attempt to put the big hurt on indie writers.

3. The indie writing boom comes to an end

This probably won't happen entirely in 2013, but I think the indie boom is going to start declining. Every boom has a bust, so it's inevitable that authors in the bountiful eBook market of 2012 begin to lose enthusiasm. It might be because sales drop off due to increased competition or lowered royalty rates. Some may come to realize just how much time and effort writing requires and decide they've had enough. Still others might find themselves satisfied that they rode this pony for as long as they did and they're done now. With most indie writers earning less than $500 annually, I don't think I'm going out on a limb here.

In 2013 we'll start to see a further separation between the amateurs or hobbyists and the professionals. Editing, quality book covers, and the proliferation of titles will make the difference. The positive here is that those of us who are left standing will have learned and matured a lot. This can only be good for readers.

4. Some eReaders will be sold for free

This seems inevitable to me. If the rumors are true, Amazon and presumably the other guys (with the exception of Apple) make no money on their tablets or even use it as a loss leader because they want buyers to jump into their ecosystem, buying their apps, movies, music, etc. Content is where the real profit is in this market. So why not give away for free the low-end tablets or eReaders? Amazon continues to slash prices year-after-year. I don’t think $0.00 is that far away.

5. Dedicated eReader devices will begin to decline in sales

I predict the proliferation of dedicated eReader devices will decline as people begin to move exclusively towards multi-function tablets. I own both a Kindle 2 and an iPad. Both serve different purposes for me. But if I had to choose between them I'd choose the iPad because it can function as a dedicated eReader and then some. Same goes for the Kindle Fire and many other tablets, of course. In fact, if I didn't own either device and was in the market, with the variety of multi-function tablets available today I doubt I'd even consider a dedicated eReader. In 2013, I expect the market for dedicated eReaders to shrink and the market for multi-function devices to increase.

6. Smashwords revamps its site

Smashwords bills itself as a “distribution platform and not a retailer”. Still, it sells eBooks directly from its site in the most varied types of eBook formats possible. More so than any other retailer, in fact. But the site is so stuck in the 90’s it’s difficult for readers to navigate and painful for everyone to look at. I predict the Smashwords site will undergo a major redesign in 2013. I don’t know if they’ll ever make a push to become a major retailer because then they’d be competing directly with the channels to which they distribute eBooks, but I think they’ll realize that by making their site more searchable, easier to navigate and find titles, and by removing all of the erotica and putting it somewhere else (or greatly improving their erotica filters), they’ll be serving their mission of being the first, best place for readers seeking great new eBooks.

Some other predictions:

How to hand-sell an eBook

hand-sale: A sale made or confirmed by mutual shaking of hands.

It’s easy to imagine how an author hand-sells a physical book. If you frequent bookstores you’ve probably seen one sitting behind a table with his or her books stacked up around them along with possibly those tall pop-ups proclaiming the arrival of their latest bestseller. In those scenarios, the author attempts to engage people passing by or else is approached by a potential reader, at which point a pitch is delivered. If the author delivers a good one and the person stopping by is agreeable, a sale is made.

This obviously can’t happen quite the same way when you’re talking about an eBook or in the case of online encounters. In the latter case, there’s no face-to-face. I’m sure most salespeople will tell you how critical that component is.

So how exactly do you hand-sell an eBook?

The same way you’d sell a physical book: one at a time.

I’ll give you an example.

I’ve had two separate instances where someone has read The Hall of the Wood and enjoyed it enough to leave a review. In both cases, and so you don’t think I intrude into the lives of everyone who leaves a review for one of my novels, I had some other connection to each reader either via my web site or Goodreads. Given the generally positive review each person left, I contacted each of these readers separately, thanked them for the review, and offered to send them a copy of my other novel with no strings attached. Both readers were happy to receive the book and went on to write really nice reviews. (You can argue that I’m not really selling anything in these cases since no money changed hands, but sometimes selling can be a longer term prospect where, in this case, good reviews result in future sales. Both readers left 5 star reviews, so I'm not complaining.)

Another way to hand-sell an eBook is via forums. This one can be a little tricky because you have to be careful to follow the rules. Most forums, including those on Goodreads, Fantasy Faction, Kindleboards, and elsewhere, have fairly strict rules governing where you can post information about books for sale. But, as long as you comply, they’re one of the best ways to hand-sell. I’ve had numerous experiences where a quick post about a lowered price has resulted in one or more sales of my novels.

Regardless of how you do it, the point is to make it personal. Establish a one-on-one connection. I’ve found most readers are happy to hear from me as long as there is some previous relationship and even sometimes if there isn’t. In those cases, I’ve always approached the person with humility and courtesy. I always thank people for reviews, even if they’re unfavorable (and they don’t give away the ending of my book—not going to let that one go, sorry). I also never put any pressure on them. Readers love to read, so it’s usually an easy pitch. But I never imply any sort of obligation.

What are some of the ways NOT to hand-sell an eBook?

This should go without saying, but blasting a message of any sort to a mass, unsolicited audience is not the way to do it. That sort of practice is called spamming. Spamming doesn’t sell anything. It just annoys people.

As for Twitter… It’s a little different because most of the people who are going to see your tweet are people who follow you. However, many people go crazy with the hashtags. So if someone is watching that particular tag, they’ll see your tweet regardless of whether they follow you or not. A lot of people think selling via Twitter doesn’t work. I agree, and in fact I routinely unfollow people who do nothing but sell. But there isn’t enough evidence to give a definitive answer either way. I do know, however, that sometimes I’ll click-through on a fellow writer’s sell tweet just to see what their sales rank is and, most of the time, it isn't very good. This tells me that mass tweeting to sell something on Twitter doesn’t work. Further, you risk alienating yourself from your followers and your readers because the constant “sell” message just gets kind of annoying after a while.

Conclusion

Hand-selling anything is an experience where the seller must establish some personal connection with the buyer. This isn’t always easy and it most certainly isn’t a way to sell lots and lots of product, at least not right away. But cultivating a few loyal readers can balloon into more sales down the road through word of mouth. This sort of organic growth only happens through an attention to detail and perseverance on the seller’s part. I’ve found the act of hand-selling my eBooks is far more rewarding than having someone buy it anonymously. That doesn’t mean I won’t take the sale, though, either way.

eBook Versioning

In the world of software, version numbers are used so people can distinguish between different product versions or builds. The following is one way in which version numbers are broken down:

(Major version).(Minor version).(Revision number).(Build number)

Let's look at each of these.

  1. Major version: The major version can be thought of as the product version. Office 11, for example, where '11' is the major version.
  2. Minor version: The minor version often indicates a point release containing enhancements, bug fixes, and generally significant improvements just short of the product warranting a new major version.
  3. Revision number: If major and minor versions of a product are identical but have different revision numbers, then those assemblies (a DLL, for example) are meant to be interchangeable. A new revision might indicate, for example, that a security hole was plugged. Functionally, though, the two assemblies are identical.
  4. Build number: The build number is associated with a compile of the program or product in question. Depending on a team's build schedule, a new build number may be generated at the end of each day or less frequently.

That may seem overly complicated but it's really pretty commonplace in software product development.

So how about books? Do books have version numbers?

Why yes they do.

The version number of a book is called an 'edition'. One possible way to break an edition number down is to express it as, for example, 15/30, which means the 15th print  having a volume of 30 units. Otherwise you may just see a simple sequential numbering system. Not very complicated.

When I first released my eBooks I was following a versioning scheme more inline with software development, except without the build number part. So, something like 1.0.11, for example. The major version never really got updated but I had a number of point releases to correct typos and such. The minor version never got updated at all. So I dropped it. I also came to realize over time that having a major version didn't make much sense either, cause when was I ever going to release any major changes? Hopefully never. The types of releases I make are really only point releases resulting in a revision number increment.

So what versioning scheme am I using for my eBooks now?

I'm using a simple sequential numbering scheme. I put the version right on the copyright page:

image

The version serves the obvious purpose of tracking changes and letting readers know there have been changes, corrections, etc., but it also lets me know which version I have uploaded to the various retailers who sell my books. It's an easy way to verify that everything went smoothly with the upload just by taking a quick look at the preview via the retailer's site the same way anyone else would.

I need to get better about tracking the actual changes that go along with each version, but that's a task (and maybe a post) for another day.

Conclusion

eBooks are digital and as such share similarities with other digital entities such as software applications. Even traditional, paper books have versions, so why not eBooks as well? It makes it possible to track changes if that's something an author wants to do and lets readers know that the book isn't static and that mistakes (we all make mistakes) are being actively corrected. That last point makes me wonder if I shouldn't add a "Last Revised" or "Last Updated" date in there somewhere. Hmm…

Amazon to remove free eBooks from Kindle Bestseller List

The news about how Amazon intends to remove free eBook titles from the Kindle Bestseller List is a couple of days old now, but I still wanted to comment on a few points.

The article states that currently "the top ten bestselling titles on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list are free downloads". I took a quick look and found that, actually, the first nine out of ten are free. The tenth is not. Not a big deal, and not one of the points I wanted to make. But here's the list for nostalgia purposes if nothing else:

Top 10 on the Kindle Bestseller List What's interesting about this list is that none of the titles are self-published. In other words, publishers put these titles in the Kindle store figuring (or hoping) they'll show up on the bestseller list. Getting noticed in the ocean of titles that is the Kindle store is hard. But if you get on the Bestseller List… People readily see the titles there and when you can download it for free, what's not to like? Of course publishers are hoping that if you do like that one book that you'll then pick up another by the same author, except this time putting down the cash for it.

HarperCollins did this with Robin Hobb's Dragon Keeper. It's the first of a trilogy, so assuming you like it, you're probably going to get books two and three. That's usually how it works with me, anyway.

But this game is about to change. Amazon intends to split the list: one for pay titles, another for free. The effect of this is that publisher's free promotions might become less effective:

An executive at HarperCollins said she thinks Amazon is certainly doing the right thing by splitting the list, noting that consumers “want to know what books everyone is reading, and buying, ” and that a list which combines free downloads and books for sale doesn’t deliver this information. When asked if she thought the separation of the lists might make promotional e-book giveaways less effective, she said it might.

Time will tell. Amazon will start splitting bestsellers based on price in "a few weeks".

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Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

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

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
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 (this post)

This post is about selling strategy. What I mean by this, or rather what I don't mean, is marketing or self-promotion. Both of those topics are important, and in fact this topic probably crosses over into those, but what I'd like to talk about here is this: I've listed one eBook on Amazon, Smashwords, Scribd, and Lulu, but with another novel soon to be complete, what's next? Where do I go from here?

As I see it, here are my options:

1.) Go the traditional publishing route

This may smack of heresy after I just posted seven (eight, including this one) posts all geared towards circumventing the traditional process, but hear me out. There's no doubt we're entering into a new world as far as publishing is concerned, but just because we can sell our work direct to readers does not instantly make the agents, copyeditors, publishers, and other personnel in the publishing industry obsolete. In fact, for those who truly want to embrace writing as a full-time occupation, I still think they're necessary. They bring expertise, leverage, and make distribution into real, physical bookstores a reality. They have access to the channels where most people still get their books from. This is to our benefit as writers.

2.) Give my eBooks (or short fiction) away for free

It's no secret that the most successful eBooks selling on Amazon are given away for free. Some think we're heading towards $0 eBooks, anyway. But free doesn't pay the bills; for full-time writers this obviously isn't an option. But for a new writer who can sustain him/herself in other ways, it might be a viable option for gaining readers. The idea might be to give away one book hoping to sell copies of another. Giving away short fiction fits into this as well. By no means does this mean giving away content for free forever. It might just be for a limited time, to perk up interest.

3.) Serialize my novel here

John Scalzi serialized his first novel, Old Man's War, on his blog before selling it to Tor. J.C. Hutchins serialized in audio format his first novel, 7th Son. The end result for both authors was a publishing contract. In Scalzi's case, he was already getting 1,000 hits/day on his blog (I get 100 on a good day; Scalzi probably gets 100/hour now). Serializing a novel for free no doubt brought in even more readers and attracted the attention of Tor. Hutchins, an unknown when he started, marketed his novel like a madman, gaining a huge following and an eventual contract as well. In these two cases, serialization worked. In general, giving away anything for free is going to work, to a point. Also, keep in mind that just because you're giving away something for free does not mean everyone is going to come to your site to read/download it. Some people still like going to bookstores and buying a "real" copy of a book. Serialization is just another way of getting your work in front of more people. Given the choice between "more" and "less", I'll take the former.

4.) Sell my eBooks here on my blog

Many authors do this, especially as rights revert back from a publisher. It's a great way to get some more life (and revenue) out of a title that has otherwise been remaindered. It's also a nice way to get your novel out to people while you're seeking a contract, which can take a very long time if it happens at all. The biggest plus of selling from your own site is you get to keep 100% (or near to that) of the revenue.

5.) Sell my eBooks through the various eRetailers I covered in this blog series

There are a lot of people who visit, say, Amazon, who probably will never come to my web site. It is therefore important to also sell through other channels, even if you are giving up a larger piece of the pie by doing so. Keep in mind, too, that eBooks that sell well via online retailers sometimes are picked up for publication.

In closing this post…

I don't think any one method is the sole way to go in today's world. Rather, I'm considering a hybrid approach of some of the above once my second novel is complete. I still want to go the traditional route because I think it's the best option for success. On the other hand, I don't want my novel languishing in a drawer while I wait for the luck of the draw to deem my work worthy of being published.

Concluding this series

In conclusion of this series let me just say that I hope I've shed some light on the different options for publishing online. The publishing world is changing; it's best to remain aware of the new possibilities.