(I know. Mysterious, right?)
Let’s all learn something about coffee this morning. Thanks to Elizabeth for pointing me in the direction of this amazing video.
Basically coffee is awesome and at the rate I drink it, I’m going to live forever.
(And yes, today you only get a video because I have to send Backpacked to Sarah, copyeditor extraordinaire, a week from Monday. Yikes!)
I just knew that when I wrote a guide about self-publishing (i.e. this one), it would be mere days before the things I’d described in it changed. In fact, it wasn’t even days – CreateSpace installed a shipping costs calculator, thus removing the element of mystery their shipping costs had been enjoying, while I was writing it.
And now Amazon have gone and changed something too.
In Self-Printed, I talk about using the information Amazon collects about its customers to your advantage. For example, its “What do customers ultimately buy after viewing this item?” is an excellent way to gauge whether or not your listing is convincing people to buy your book, or if it’s just convincing them to buy someone else’s.
That screenshot is from Mousetrapped‘s paperback listing on Amazon.co.uk. All is unchanged over there. But below is a screenshot taken of Mousetrapped Kindle listing on Amazon.com, and as you can see it’s no longer about what customers buy after they view my listing, but what other items they buy. It sounds the same, but it’s actually very different. For one thing, my book has now been taken completely out of the equation.
And while this mucks up a part of my book, I think it’s a great idea.
A couple of weeks back the self-publishing evangelists were up in arms over the sudden disappearance of Kindle tags. (They’ve since returned, with a crackdown on tagging parties.) Amazon, AKA The Man, was discriminating against us poor little marginalized self-publishers again. Boo-hoo. But in doing so, they were not only making me roll my eyes so much they were in danger of disappearing forever, but they were forgetting why Amazon exists, or rather who it exists for: Amazon customers.
When Amazon does something, it isn’t because they’re thinking, “How can we p— off those darn self-publishers some more?” No. (No, really – it’s not.) They’re trying to improve their customers’ experience on the site so that they buy more and so Amazon, who are a business, make more money. And that’s why I think the change above is a great idea.
What does it matter to me, as a customer, what percentage of people end up buying the item I’m already looking at? I can’t think of a single way that enhances my shopping experience, other than to introduce me to some similar titles, based on other customers’ tastes, that I might be interested in. Amazon have clearly now realized this, and removed (i) the title you’re already looking at and (ii) the percentages, and instead are offering this information as a sort of concentrated form of their “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” which appears higher up the page and can go on for a hundred titles.
If I had one wish, it would be that self-publishers would recognize how good they have it and quit all the bitching and moaning. (Well, maybe if I had two wishes. There is Josh Groban to consider, after all.) Last week we all read about John Locke becoming the first self-published e-book author to sell a million Kindle books. What struck me most about the official announcement though was this quote from John:
“Kindle Direct Publishing has provided an opportunity for independent authors to compete on a level playing field with the giants of the book selling industry. Not only did KDP give me a chance, they helped at every turn. Quite simply, KDP is the greatest friend an author can have.”
Do you detect any bitching or moaning in there?
I’m over on Irish Publishing News today, reviewing John Locke’s book, How I Sold 1 Million E-books in 5 Months.
I had a mixed reaction to it, which is to say that while on one hand I thought, “This is a near-guaranteed way to sell millions of 99c e-books,” on the other I was thinking, “This has nothing to do with being a good writer.” You may argue that the numbers of readers you have determines the quality of your writing, but it doesn’t, and I’ll be posting more about that thought next week.
“Being a self-published author myself (and currently making a living from it) I was intrigued to find out how Locke had done it. Even more so because I’m one of his legion of Twitter followers, and have been since before he came up with his e-book selling strategy, which he says he did around October 2010. But would this book really contain the secret of selling a million books? Would it say something new or just more of the same? And was it worth the $4.99 (€3.50) price-tag or should he have priced it at 99c like he does all his other books?”
P.S: What did I learn from this experience? PROOFREAD YOUR GUEST POSTS BEFORE YOU SEND THEM OFF. I don’t really care about typos on my own blog (it’s just a blog people – chillax!) but it’s not the done thing to do it on other people’s. When I have a guest poster, I only skim their article before it goes live; I’m assuming they’ve checked it themselves, and anyway I’m not the best error-spotter. But Eoin of IPN and I have been error-spotting all morning on this thing – clearly I wrote it in a caffeine-free situation. YIKES!
Sitting in front of YouTube last Thursday, my heart sank – and not just because that “due to unprecedented demand” I couldn’t register my e-mail address on Pottermore. JK Rowling has decided to sell the most anticipated e-books in the history of… well, e-books, directly through the site, skipping the likes of Amazon, iBooks and other retailers.
“JK Rowling is self-publishing!” Twitter said, collectively and breathlessly, as soon as the announcement was made. It was, apparently, “a watershed moment for e-books.” It proved that the “stigma of self-publishing is finally over.” This was “publishing’s Radiohead moment.” The death knell of books and the publishing world as it is now was suddenly ringing louder and more frequently. Surely the end of it all – print books, agents, editors, booksellers – was now only days away.
So why did my heart sink?
Because ignoring the gaping black hole of distinction between Rowling’s situation and everyone else’s on earth without exception, the self-publishing evangelists could now claim her as one of their own, and they were wetting themselves with glee at the prospect. But JK Rowling is only the new John Grisham: a self-publishing success story that’s regularly trotted out to validate self-publishing as a choice, but is in fact about a writer who never self-published.
Because Rowling is not self-publishing.
She is not self-publishing because she is not self-publishing. The Harry Potter e-books may be on sale from a site owned by the author and not third party retailers, but she is doing this in partnership with her print publishers and Sony, who will presumably do the techie bits. (They already have their logo on the Pottermore home page.)
As the Wall Street Journal reports:
“Ms. Rowling isn’t entirely pushing aside her publishers. Bloomsbury and Scholastic both said in statements Thursday that they would receive a cut of Pottermore’s e-book sales. “It is because J.K. Rowling wanted to be in a partnership with her print publishers on this project,” a Bloomsbury spokeswoman said. Both Bloomsbury and Scholastic said they would provide marketing and promotional support for the Pottermore site.”
But Rowling is also not self-publishing because there is a difference the size of the Grand Canyon between a billionaire author who has the most successful series of books in the history of paper and is responsible for movies, merchandise and theme park attractions starting to sell directly to readers, and you or I uploading a 99c book to Amazon KDP or Smashwords.
Her “self-publishing” is not the same as our “self-publishing.” I would even go so far as to say one has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
Why do authors self-publish?
Do you think Rowling is motivated by any of those? (Remember she can’t be by No.5, because she is getting help from her publishers.) Hardly. Pottermore is a new experience for Potter fans that will help drag Harry into the digital age, and selling the e-books from there is just one facet of it. If I was Rowling I would do the same thing, but I would do it solely as an antidote to piracy. The Potter e-books will reportedly be inked with a digital watermark so any pirated copies can be traced back to the original purchaser but they will be DRM-free. If the books were sold through stores like Amazon, iBooks, Sony, Barnes and Noble, etc. etc., I can’t imagine that would work.
But that’s all beside my point, which is JK Rowling is nothing to do with you. Or me. Or any self-publisher.
It doesn’t mean that traditional publishing is dead, that you should forget submitting that novel you’re working on to agents and take it straight to Smashwords instead, or that the fastest way to the millionaires’ club is a series of thriller novels priced at just $2.99. All it means is that what surely must be the most successful writer in the world right now (at least in terms of revenue) has found a way to bring her books into the digital age, to introduce them to a whole new, younger audience and to give something new to the existing fans who may have started reading them nearly fifteen years ago.
And she has already been traditionally published. She is a traditionally published author. She has submitted her work to agents, got an agent, had that agent submit her work to publishers, got rejected, got rejected some more and finally got an offer of a book contract. She has done her time, so to speak. She is not sitting at home, tapping her fingers on the desk while she waits for her 385,000-word novel, Zodiac Goldbottom and The Enchanted Fairies of Realm Number 6 (Volume 1), to finish converting on Smashwords so she can go into work on Monday morning and tell her colleagues that since she last saw them on Friday afternoon, she’s become A Novelist.
You don’t need anyone but yourself and your work to validate your decision to self-publish. The best way to prove that self-publishing isn’t just for deluded losers is to self-publish a good book professionally, and do it without making grandiose claims that make me want to slap you repeatedly on the head. (With your own book, for added effect.) Let your success speak for itself, and let that success say, “I’ve successfully self-published and I’m proud – but that doesn’t mean every last bookstore in the world will be closed forever by 5pm tomorrow and dead trees will have to go find something else to do.”
I was lucky enough to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando last October. I was utterly blown away. And as I walked through Hogsmeade, queued up to enter Hogwarts, flew across the Quidditch pitch, peered in the window of Ollivander’s, eyed up cups of Butterbeer (and ultimately decided against it) and finally strolled through a gift shop that had a whole host of items adorned with Harry Potter images and logos – and there, in the corner, the books themselves – I felt a little emotional.
All this because of an idea that popped into a woman’s brain while on a train, I kept thinking. Look what books can do.
Books and Bloomsbury, the house that first published them.
Self-publishers, I will give us one thing: this is good news, although not for the reason you think. As Steven Lewis pointed out on Taleist yesterday, the release of the most highly anticipated e-books ever to grace the publishing world will surely result in even more people purchasing e-reading devices, especially if the Potter e-books have some added value (like an enhanced reading experience), which they surely will. And the more people with e-readers, the more people who can potentially buy your book.
UPDATE: I didn’t think I could agree with anything in a post called “JK Rowling Really IS Self-Publishing” (!) but this post by David Gaughran makes a lot of sense. Follow it down to the comments where I weigh in, and David says this golden nugget of common sense:
“Funnily enough, I think this will have a lot more impact on successful trade published writers than it will have for self-publishers. The big publishers will be working even harder now to keep their stars.”
To which I say: YUP.
Today we have a guest post from author Marshall Buckley, who has just self-published his debut novel, The Long Second. With an agent and positive professional feedback, Buckley was initially reluctant to join the self-publishing party but now that he has, he’s made sure to do it professionally and with his eyes wide open.
Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Marshall!
“If you decide to self-publish, one of the first things you should do is, frankly, start being realistic.
Yes, we’ve all had those dreams of selling thousands, nay, millions of copies of our book, of being the next J K Rowling, or becoming the next rags-to-riches story.
It’s not going to happen. Okay, it might happen, but probably not, and I think it’s better to be a pleasantly surprised realist than a horribly disappointed optimist.
I had those dreams. When I wrote the book and secured an agent at pretty much the first attempt I felt sure this was it. This was the point at which my life changed. I told myself I would be happy to sell “just” 10,000 copies. I would content myself with a five figure advance (though I wouldn’t turn down a six figure one). I worked out what my average royalty per book would be (and I am far too embarrassed to reveal what I thought that figure was. Let’s just say I was a long, long way out).
So, when it became clear that my current books on submission (all three of them) weren’t going to find a publisher, I made the decision (almost to my own surprise) to publish them on Kindle. My agent, to her credit, gave her complete backing.
It soon became clear that publishing to Kindle was only part of the story, but encompassing all the other e-readers and setting up a limited paperback print run hasn’t been too onerous either.
I did, however, need to readjust my goals. 10,000 copies was suddenly a pretty big number, especially when you hear that 1,000 is considered the point at which you’ve “made it” as a self-publisher. But I reckon I can do 1,000. It’s a challenge I’m willing to take.
In my first weekend I exceeded my wildest (new) dreams. There’s no way I’ll be able to maintain that momentum, of course – I’m quickly running out of friends who feel obliged to buy – so I need to reach out to the public at large.
That, of course, is not easy.
Like many authors, I’m not naturally outgoing (despite how it may appear on Twitter) and I’m reluctant to talk too much about “me”, but you have to learn to put those reservations aside. Never forget that by simply completing a book you’ve achieved what so many people claim to want to do. If, like me, you then have independent feedback (my agent, for example) that the book is good then you’re probably in the top 5% of writers (I made that figure up - it might be 10% or it might be 1%. Trust me, though, you’re in the minority). Take heed of that, build on it, tell yourself that you can write.
Take that knowledge, go back to your book and make it even better (because it can always be better) and then look at self-publishing. But don’t, not even for a moment, think that you’re taking the easy way out. Much of the self-publishing process is easy (though, I admit, I’m a bit of a geek and I love all the preparing for different formats business) but actually getting it on Amazon/Smashwords etc is the easy part. Actually selling in any significant numbers is where it gets difficult.
Think about your USP. It’s no longer enough that you wrote a book, even if that was your life-long dream. What’s different about it? What’s different about you? Whatever it is, no matter how small and apparently insignificant, build on it.
Talk to the local newspaper and the local radio. Worried they might say no? Sure, they might. But they are people, just like you, and they are looking for ways to make their own life easier. Hand them a story on a plate and they’ll most likely bite your hand off. You probably only need one lucky break to make the difference. Find yourself talking to a sympathetic news editor who wants to run your story AND give your book a review and you could well be laughing. SO far, I’ve tried all these things and more. Some have worked, some haven’t and some I’m still reserving judgement on. But I’m still working on them. It’s early days for me. My sales figures aren’t yet making any publishers regret rejecting me, and they probably won’t ever, but I’m doing my damnedest to reach my new, adjusted, realistic goal.
Remember: always be realistic. This probably won’t get you a publishing deal, and it probably won’t make you rich.
But that’s not why you wrote the book, is it? You wrote it because this idea just needed to be written and, having done that, it just wants to be read. Yes, I’d love tens of thousands of people to read my book, but I’d still be happy if 1,000 people read it.
Because I’m realistic.
You can follow my journey – and I promise to be honest – at www.marshallbuckley.com.”
Marshall Buckley lives near London, UK and in Newfoundland, Canada. At the same time. He has a total of 5 children, four dogs, three cats and six very small fish. He is not as tired as you might imagine because he achieves all this by being two people. In March 2009 an innocent-looking Facebook post stated “I’ve an idea for a book, who wants to help me write it?” and, after a flurry of posts and emails, Marshall Buckley was born; very soon after, the result (which bears only a passing resemblance to that original idea) was The Long Second. With no publishing experience to speak of (one half of Marshall Buckley works in the computer games industry while the other is an IT Professional), The Long Second was sent out to the world in full confidence of securing an agent and a publisher in a matter of days. By some good fortune, the first was actually achieved, but the second remained elusive. Marshall Buckley now has a full two years’ worth of publishing experience but is no closer to understanding the mysteries of the industry. But – and this is important – he’s not bitter.
Isabel Ashdown’s first novel, Glasshopper, won her the Mail on Sunday Novel Competition, was hailed by the Observer as one of “Best Debuts of 2009″ and was one of the Evening Standard‘s “Best Books of the Year.” It’s a title that’s been on my I Really Should Get Round to Read These list for a long time and while I still haven’t got round to it, I have had the pleasure of reading Ashdown’s new book, Hurry Up and Wait.
“It’s more than twenty years since Sarah Ribbons last set foot inside her old high school, a crumbling Victorian-built comprehensive on the south coast of England. Now, as she prepares for her school reunion, 39-year-old Sarah has to face up to the truth of what really happened back in the summer of 1986.
August 1985: Sarah celebrates her fifteenth birthday in the back garden of a suburban seaside house she shares with her aging father. As she embarks on her fifth and final year at Selton High School for Girls Sarah’s main focus is on her erratic friendships with Tina and Kate; her closest allies one moment, her fiercest opponents the next as they compete for the attention of the new boy, Dante. When her father is unexpectedly taken ill, Sarah is sent to stay with Kate’s family in nearby Amber Chalks. Kate’s youthful parents welcome her into the comfort of their liberal family home, where the girls can eat off trays while watching TV in Kate’s bedroom. They’ve never been closer – until a few days into her stay, events take a sinister turn, and Sarah knows that nothing will ever be the same again.”
I’m ten years out of school – ten years this month, eek! – but I still have the odd dream/nightmare that when the sun rises, I have to push myself out of bed, pull on an itchy purple wool uniform, trudge off to my least favorite place on earth and count down the minutes until three-thirty when I can leave again. When I read books like Hurry Up and Wait (or Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, or Cuckoo by Julia Crouch) that uncomfortable, crawly-skin feeling descends and I am transported right back to a time when your best friend yesterday mightn’t be the same one you have tomorrow, and you mightn’t really like either of them anyway. (It took me a few years to fully extricate myself from my marriage-of-convenience school friends and I remember, when I first made true friends purely by choice, thinking, These people are amazing! I actually would choose to spend time with them, and they don’t annoy me at all! Is this what it’s supposed to be like?!) Of course we don’t know any better, and most of us emerged unscathed from our relationships with school “friends” we don’t actually like. But what might happen if we didn’t?
In Hurry Up and Wait, Ashdown explores that very notion through the relationships between three school friends: Sarah, Kate and Tina, the alliances and animosity within them changing like the wind. It’s acutely observed and utterly realistic – every scene, down to the cruel taunting of their teachers and Sarah’s struggle between wanting to impress her friend and not disappoint her father, rings true. Set in a small town and played out among adolescents (and therefore, characters without enough life experience to have perspective), there is also a feeling almost of claustrophobia, a sense that this is the only world there is and will ever be.
If I had one criticism it would be that due to the nature of the novel’s timeline (it starts and ends at the school reunion; the main part of the novel is set back in Sarah’s school days), the impact of the novel’s climax felt softened slightly. Ashdown does an excellent job of generating a sense of dark foreboding – the book’s tension comes from the reader knowing where Sarah is headed even though Sarah herself does not – but I felt the emotional punch at the end could have been even bigger if it wasn’t for the book’s structure.
I consider this only a minor annoyance though; it didn’t affect my reading experience. I can still say I really enjoyed the book. Recommended.