Category Archives: Publishing

Why I’m focusing on the Kindle and the Nook

Jenny Melzer started out selling her new novel Goblin Market at $2.99, the generally acknowledged sweet spot for indie authors. Then she lowered it to 99 cents for a promotion, and sold more copies, though we don’t know if she broke the six times more copies she’d have to sell to make 99 cents with a 35% royalty generate more money than $2.99 with a 70% royalty. Still, she got new readers, right? And she could always go back up to $2.99 once the promotion was over.

Not so fast.

I was going to raise the price of The Goblin Market back up to $2.99 on Tuesday, and I did for about twenty-four hours before Amazon crawled the net and discovered the price was still showing up at $.99 on competitor stores. Amazon’s policy is to price match the lowest price found online, so they slashed the price of The Goblin Market right back down to $.99.

via The Goblin Market: $.99 It Is Then… : The Inner Bean.

This cross-store automatic price matching is also why people are complaining about Apple’s 30% vig for subscriptions. It’s practically impossible to charge more one place than another, regardless what the payout terms are for the author.

For “Do Over!” I’m starting at 99 cents and keeping it there, and I’m only worried about placing it on Kindle, Nook and maybe Google if I can find a cheap enough ISBN provider (Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t require ISBNs). For my Unification Chronicles books, I’ll be starting at $2.99 and keeping them there as well. For those, I’ll probably go through the effort of securing an ISBN and getting the books placed on Google, Apple and possibly Sony’s ebookstores as well as Kindle and Nook. But I’m not going to bother with aggregators like Smashwords, as I don’t believe I’d get enough new readers there who wouldn’t already be using one of the other venues. The book market is fragmented, but as long as there are only half a dozen or so major players, I don’t mind dealing with them individually.

That said, I’m not so sure Jenny is losing money over this. Joe Konrath is trying an experiment with one of his titles, lowering the price to 99 cents and seeing how much money it generates. Keep in mind that ebooks are a post-scarcity good. Traditional supply and demand economics don’t apply if the supply is infinite. The value of an ebook as an asset to the author has nothing to do with the price, and everything to do with revenue. If Joe (and Jenny) sell more than six times as many copies at 99 cents than they do at $2.99, they make more money overall. So far, Joe is just about breaking even with The List, selling almost exactly six times as many copies. But the market is still growing, and this definitely hasn’t been settled yet.

“Do Over!” by the numbers

Okay, remember, it’s way, way early here. But I’ve had “Do Over!” on sale for almost two weeks, and thought I’d give my thoughts and observations about epublishing as it stands today.

For my newish readers, I’ve been in the epublishing game for a long, long time. About a dozen years ago I co-founded a website called “Free ePress” that published original works on the honor system—we gave the books away for free and asked people to pay us what they thought the story was worth (an idea that came to me after watching a festival of street performers here in Denver, writing as busking).

Since then, I’ve been published on eReader, Fictionwise and other smallish, pre-Kindle ebook sites. I’ve watched the ebook industry mature from an outlandish “why would anyone read a book on their Palm Pilot?” goofball idea to now the almost certain future of publishing as brick and mortar stores close and disappear.

“Do Over!” is my first book to be published on Amazon (and, oddly, Barnes & Noble, considering they bought Fictionwise, which already carries it). It’s a novella rather than a full-length novel, so I priced it accordingly at 99 cents, even though that puts me outside Amazon’s 70% royalty range.

So how has it done in two weeks? The first week, I sold 14 copies, netting me a total of $4.90 in royaties. The second week that firehose tapered off, and I sold 4 copies for a $1.40. So in the first two weeks, I’ve taken in $6.30. The upside is that’s not enough to declare to the IRS, so that whole $6.30 is tax-free, baby. Sales rank is #81,546 in all paid books available on Amazon. Eat that, #81,547!

Ahem.

Oh, and on Barnes & Noble? Zero copies. You disappointment me, nookers.

Over the weekend, I changed the description marketing copy on Amazon to give a bit more detail.

Before:

Richie Preston is a loser, in every sense of the word. He never moved out of his parents’ house, still works a dead end job and lost out on the love of his life.

But when the fates give him a second chance, he has the opportunity to live his senior year of high school all over again, only this time remembering where he went wrong. All he has to do is make sure he doesn’t interfere in the lives of others, and he can start over.

If you had the chance, would you make the choice?

After:

Richie Preston is 27 years old and still lives in his parents’ house, still works at a dead end job, lost his great love, still hasn’t really begun his life.

One day the fates smile on him and give him the opportunity to start over, to go back to being 17 and about to start his senior year of high school, only this time with all the memories of what he did wrong the first time. All he has to do is not interfere with anyone else’s life. It sounds like a great deal, but living up to his end of the bargain turns out to be harder than Richie ever imagined.

If you had the chance, would you make the choice?

I also changed the genre to YA (or “Juvenile Fiction” in Amazon parlance), given that the main character is in his senior year of high school. No idea if this will help, but at least I’m trying something.

I know I probably shouldn’t be, but I’m underwhelmed. I’m in need of some serious whelming. I know a 16,000 word novella is a tough sell even at 99 cents, and I know I’m not exactly a household name. But Joe Konrath makes this sound so easy (maybe I should quit taking writing advice from guys named Joe). Evidently, selling ebooks is a self-reinforcing system. Once you reach a certain critical mass of sales, they just keep building (see Konrath, Amanda Hocking, etc.). But getting to that point in the first place is a bit trickier.

The trick, it seems, is volume. Right now I’m seeing the level of success you’d expect from someone with only one book, and that a novella, in the store. Hocking has nine. Konrath has over a dozen (accounting gets tricky as he has several collaborations that aren’t just him). So maybe when I get the first Unification Chronicles trilogy done and posted they’ll feed each other. What I have learned is that one book squeaking plaintively in the Amazon isn’t going to get noticed much.

(squeak.)

And still. That’s 19 (I sold another one over the weekend) people I’ve entertained that I hadn’t a month ago. 19 people I maybe gave something to think about.

That’s something.

“Do Over!” on sale now!

"Do Over!" coverLast week I posted my YA novella “Do Over!” on Amazon and Barnes & Noble for 99 cents. It’s been well-reviewed, but I need a little help getting the word out there, so please feel free to link to this blog. I’ll be adding the link to Google Books as soon as I figure out how to get the book into their system. It’s a fast read at 16,000 words, ideal for reading over a lunch hour or commute.

What’s it about? Glad you asked. “Do Over!” is the tale of Richie Preston, a 27-year-old who still lives in his parents’ house, still works at a dead end job, still hasn’t really begun his life. One day the fates smile on him and give him the opportunity to start over, to go back to being 17 and about to start his senior year of high school, only this time with all the memories of what he did wrong the first time. All he has to do is not interfere with anyone else’s life. It sounds like a great deal, but living up to his end of the bargain turns out to be harder than Richie ever imagined.

Experience, not credentials

When I’m not living the life of a superstar blogger and novelist (/slurps iced tea from Chipotle), I work in IT. I got into computers in middle school, which for me means shortly after the end of the stone age. My first PC was a Commodore VIC20, with a whopping 20 _kilobytes_ of memory. (Its successor, the C64, is much better known.) When I got out of high school in 1989 with a slacker C average and no hope of college, I went into the Air Farce as a computer programmer and that, as they say, was that.

I’ve been in IT 20 years now, been tinkering with computers for 25, been taking things apart to see how they work for damn near 40. I only managed an Associates Degree in college, mostly testing out of courses for the credit hours on Uncle Sam’s dime, but I don’t regret it. Through independent study, innate curiosity and a love of reading, I’m probably better educated than most people with Bachelors Degrees.

Why am I telling you all this? So you know where I’m coming from when I explain why I hired the editor I did. As she [mentioned](http://www.kathleendale.com/?p=117) on her blog, Kathleen Dale was surprised when I asked her to edit the [_Unification Chronicles_](http://www.jeffkirvin.net/unificationchronicles) series. She doesn’t have an English degree or formal training in editing a novel.

But I know from my own life that credentials don’t matter as much as people think they do. Credentials are shorthand for people who don’t want to find out for themselves what you’re capable of. I’ve known Kathleen for a year now, have read one of her novels in our [critique group](http://denverfictionwriters.com) and have seen the critique suggestions she’s already given me for _Revelation_. I know we work well together and I trust her judgment. Kathleen has great attention to detail, a keen literary mind and I know her suggestions–which she delivers with tact I’ll never have–will make the book better.

And this, in turn, reinforces my feeling that I am On To Something here. I think we’re going to see a lot more partnerships like this in publishing, not unlike a musician and producer, only without the omnipresent weight of the studio (publisher) overhead. Between the two of us, Kathleen and I have most of the bases covered. We’re both graphic artists, I know the internet marketing and promotion parts of the process. Together, we can produce a great SF series that spans genres and centuries, the way I’ve only seen Card’s Ender series and Asimov’s Robots/Empire/Foundation series do. It’s a tall order, and we’re only two people, but I’m confident we can pull it off. Without a big New York publisher. Without a publisher at all.

Welcome to the future.

This is why I’m self-publishing

15 classic science fiction and fantasy novels that publishers rejected

_War of the Worlds, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, The Once and Future King, Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Forever War, Carrie…_ Oh, something about a kid named Harry Potter. Most of them rejected because the publishers were _sure_ no one would be interested in reading them.

I’ll let my _readers_ make that decision, kthxbai.

Perceived value is made of FAIL

I’m seeing the same suggestion start to pop up over and over–which means there’s probably something to it–along with the same ridiculous counterargument. The suggestion is, “Hey! If we priced digital goods low enough to be an impulse buy, they’d not only sell like crazy, but it also wouldn’t be worth the effort to pirate them!”

Last week the former head of UK Warner Music, Rob Dickens, [made just such a suggestion](http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/10/former-music-label-boss-beat-piracy-by-selling-albums-for-1.ars). He floated the idea that if they sold albums for just one pound, people would buy _way_ more albums. It’s just bits, right? The overhead is negligable.

And of course, pretentious old media immediately harumphed and coughed into their hands and explained why this would be a _horrible_ idea.

> “Right now if you buy a bottle of water it’s £1. A piece of music is a valuable form of art. If you want the person to respect it and value it, it’s got to cost them not a huge sum of money but a significant sum of money.” — [Jonathan Shalit](http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11547279)

This is bone dead stupid.

But I see the same thing in publishing. Joe Konrath has gotten all kinds of hell from other writers who whine that his [pricing his books at $2.99 somehow devalues their art](http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/03/value-of-ebooks.html). Konrath, if you haven’t read him, writes horror and thriller novels. Entertainment. And given how many entertainment options I have in the 21st century, I’m a lot more willing to spend $2.99 to be entertained by a book for a few hours than I am to spend $9.99 or $14.99 for the same experience.

Moreover, Konrath has broken down the numbers and _proven_ that he sells considerably more than three times the books at one third the price. Meaning that by “devaluing” his work he is _simultaneously_ selling more books–and gaining more fans apt to buy his books in the future–_and_ making more money.

Think about that. Whether you’re selling a book, a movie or an album, you have the option to _both_ gain more fans/repeat customers _and_ make more dollars in total. And all you have to do is give up the outdated economics of scarcity that make you think a novel/movie/album is actually _worth_ $10. Quit worrying about whether or not people “value” your “art” and your art can actually reach more people (and make you more money).

This seems like a no-brainer to me, and I think it’s inevitable that it will become the “going rate” in the near future. The real question is how many artists are going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming to bigger audiences and more money, and how many will refuse to make the trip at all.

I guarantee the Big Six take the wrong lesson from this.

From Mike Cane’s blog:

How many times will the Big Six have to see this happen before it wakes up?

1) Your eBooks are too damned expensive. People don’t give a damn about your “fixed costs” (which includes your too-fat salaries at the very top). Google dominated the entire world starting from nothing. We should pity your overfed overpaid fat asses?

2) There are no more regional rights. The new regions are the boundaries of language. You get to sell English-language worldwide. All other languages are now the sub-rights for “regions.”

3) Start making bundled sets. Or you’re going to screw every writer with a series whose backlist is too damned expensive as single buys.

4) What is your mission? To sell books or to keep your jobs? You can do the latter by lowering the prices to make the former larger than you ever dreamed.

Inspired by a post from a Canadian who wasn’t allowed to buy a legit copy of a le Carré novel, Mike strolled among the torrents to see what kind of ebooks you can find for free these days if the publishers refuse to sell to you or price the books unreasonably. The quality of the Stieg Larsson “Millennium Trilogy” ebooks he found looks professional enough to me.

And Cane is right. More than $10 for an ebook is ripping off the customer, and the customers have figured that out. You’re not driving them to buy the hardcover instead, you’re driving them to torrents and getting nothing rather than something. But this an old argument and the Big Six show now signs of wising up.

Cane’s comments about regional restrictions and bundles really got me thinking, though. Now that I’m reluctantly committing to the Kindle, I would love to give Hachette $50 for Kindle versions of the dozen or so Agent Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. But I can’t. So I’m faced with buying them individually, or breaking out Stanza to read the eReader copies I already bought. Hachette is leaving money on the table and they probably don’t even realize it.

Instead, I bet the lessons the Big Six take away from this sort of thing is that they need stronger DRM to keep people from pirating their books. Given that most pirate ebooks are lovingly proofread scans of paper copies, I really don’t think that’s going to work. But they’ll try it. Because the alternative is to change “the way things have always been done,” and that’s unthinkable. Right up until they go out of business.

Close, but no Kindle

I want to buy a Kindle. I really do.

There’s just one problem. A minor concern. I have something on the order of _three thousand_ ebooks already in my Calibre library. I can convert these to .mobi format and drag them into Kindle for PC. I can drag them over USB to a physical Kindle device.

But I do most of my reading on my iPhone. And while the Kindle iOS app is wonderful for reading books purchased via Amazon.com _there is no official way_ to add personal content to Kindle for iOS.

Until the jailbreaks of last weekend, there was no way at all, official or otherwise, to load personal content onto Kindle for iOS if you were using the latest revision of the operating system. Now that I can—and have—jailbreak 4.1, I can verify that if you know the specific folder on the iPhone where the Kindle app stores its books:

> /private/var/mobile/Applications/A9EB2B1F-4AA1-4FE3-9E41-3C6ECE723776/Documents/eBooks

you can copy .mobi files to the device and they’ll show up in your book list the next time you start the Kindle app. Now, this is just for Kindle iOS version 2.3.1.3. The next time I download an update to the Kindle app, that A9EB2B1F-4AA1-4FE3-9E41-3C6ECE723776 changes to something else.

But at least I can get my personal content on to the device. For now. As long as I keep playing the game of cat and mouse with Apple and Amazon to keep my phone jailbroken and keep track of where the books are.

But one of the key advantages to the Kindle platform is Whispersync, the ability to pick up where you left off on any Kindle reader no matter what device you were using last time. This doesn’t work with personal content. I even verified that if I name the files using Amazon’s product ID the way Amazon does it internally—Stephen King’s _On Writing_, which I’ve already purchased from eReader/Fictionwise _and_ Audible, would be B000FC0SIM_EBOK.azw—and carefully insert a copy in the ebooks folder for Kindle iOS and Kindle PC, even though it says it’s uploading and saving my furthest read location on the iOS device, opening the same book in Kindle for PC doesn’t jump to the same location.

In short, I’ve done just about everything I can do to make this work without access to the code.

So for right now, I can’t read _all_ of the books I own seamlessly on whatever reading platform I happen to have at hand, which is the whole point of the Kindle experience. Only the books I actually bought from Amazon sync with my iPhone. So either I deal with finding my place myself—which I already do if I’m reading the same book as an ebook and an audiobook, the only way I get through some things—or I rebuy books I’ve already paid for if I want them to sync—which also includes the ability to archive (delete) books from the device and then easily redownload them over the air later if I need to.

And yet, if Kindle 3 prices drop again for the holiday season to $99 for WiFi-only and $149 for 3G, I might have to bite the bullet and buy one anyway. I’m already hooked.

Just not completely.

On making ebook piracy inevitable

Simon & Schuster have announced that they will be delaying the ebook releases of at least 35 of their big name releases in 2010. Doyce Testerman has said pretty much what I have to say on the matter, so why don’t you go see what he has to say.

This decision, which I fully believe is grounded in nothing less than a toddler-like desire to cling to the once-profitable but entirely outdated publishing structures of the past, actually creates an environment where, from a ebook-pirate’s perspective, it is a good idea to steal from them, because there is no legitimate competition in that space.

via The Future, the Past, Willful Ignorance, and Simon and Schuster – doyce testerman.

Basically, Simon & Schuster (Stephen King) and Hatchette (Stephanie Meyer) are forcing users who want–or need–to read books via ebook format to either do without or turn to P2P networks and download pirate scans. For me personally, this means nothing. I haven’t bought a paper book in a decade. If it’s not available from Amazon or eReader.com, I simply don’t buy it. I have hundreds of books that I can read instead. But the author won’t get my money, either, and that’s a shame.

I think it’s worth noting that I just bought a copy of Earth by David Brin on eReader, even though I’ve had a pirate scan of it for years. Why? Because the scan sucks as a reading experience. It’s badly OCRed, meaning the line and paragraph breaks are in the wrong places and it’s rife with typos. Even though I could get the story for free, it was worth $8 for a professional presentation, and cleaning up the scan would have taken up far, far more than $8 worth of my time.

People will buy ebooks if they’re priced to provide a good value for the content, but you have to give them the chance in the first place.

Starting over (again)

I had just about quit writing altogether. I’ve been trying to build up enthusiasm for a number of different writing projects recently, getting just a little enthusiasm before losing interest in each. I had nowhere near the spark necessary to see an entire novel through to completion. Basically, writing wasn’t fun anymore, and it hadn’t been in years. And I’d gotten to the point where I was almost ready to give it up completely.

Yesterday I noticed on Twitter that one of my favorite authors, James Rollins (@jamesrollins on Twitter), happened to be here in Denver and was going to do a book signing at The Tattered Cover, Denver’s awesome independent bookstore. More to the point, he was going to do the signing on my side of town, at a store I didn’t even know they had. Seeing as how I didn’t have to take my oddly-overheating car all the way downtown, there was no way I could pass that up. I even happened to be reading his latest book (finished it today).

I’d admired Rollins for many years. Like me, he had no formal training in English or Literature, and continued his veterinary practice for many years before switching over to being a full time novelist. He writes exactly the sort of books I enjoy most, a mix of adventure and really interesting science. He’s one of the authors publishing today whose books I’ll buy as soon as they hit the shelves, sight unseen. I’ve got a number of interesting observations about the talk (which will be available as a podcast soon), but that’s not the point of this post.

After the talk, I walked up and had him sign my iPhone (getting his autograph in SimpleDraw, then sending a screenshot of that to my camera roll) and asked him my question. I told him I’d been a storyteller in one way or another most of my life, but that I’d started to lose the faith. Writing wasn’t fun anymore. What advice did he have?

First he told me to keep sending out queries. Subterranean, his first novel, didn’t find an agent until his 50th try. He’d send out ten queries to ten different agents. If he got back a rejection, he’d immediately send out a query to a new agent. If he got two rejections, he sent out two new queries, always keeping 10 in circulation. This is good advice, but in and of itself didn’t help much as I’ve already published all my finished works, and indeed did so a decade ago.

But the corollary to this first bit was what really got me thinking. He also said to keep writing, because once you were writing something new you weren’t quite so attached to what you’d already sent out, and it getting rejected didn’t hurt quite so much. I confirmed that this only really worked if you were writing individual stories, not an ongoing series in which everything you wrote was dependent on everything else, and you could be sunk if the first item in the series didn’t sell.

I thanked him, shook his hand, and wandered out of the bookstore with my mind racing. It occurred to me that I hadn’t really had a new story idea, well, this century. Or at least since Josh Curry and I were working on Heroes 101, back in 2003. Everything else I’ve done this decade, even my NaNoWriMo 2006 novel and my attempt this year at Script Frenzy, were ideas I had a long time ago and just finally got around to doing. I haven’t come up with a new idea, a character I don’t already know, in years.

And suddenly, I knew why writing wasn’t fun anymore. Because there was no sense of discovery, no suspense, no adventure. No matter which project I tried to work on, it was all well tread ground. I hadn’t finished any of these works (although I got 80,000 words into the sequel to Between Heaven and Hell, just a few scenes from the end), but I’d been picking at them for so long they were little more than bleached bones.

I need new stories, new characters, new ideas. And I’m starting to believe I can find that wellspring of creativity again. That I don’t have to keep clinging to ideas I came up with in my 20s. More importantly, I’m starting to believe I want to.