Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: my debut thriller Distress Signals – think: eerily similar disappearances from a cruise ship in the Med – was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.
So, TRAGIC news: there will be no video blog today. I know, I know. I’ll give you a second to dry your tears.
Once I finish this post I will be unplugging my modem at the wall, putting the first wave of John Mayer’s new album on repeat and gluing my arse to the chair in front of my computer for the next 72 hours or so in order to finish the second draft of Book 2. I just don’t have time for transforming into a human girl, filming the blog and then editing and uploading it, because all that takes hours, especially the transforming bit. I don’t want to break my 28-day blogging bonanza insanity commitment, so I am blogging (obvs) but I’m going to do a bit of swapping around. I give you: a normal blog post.
Earlier this week I posted The ‘Get Published’ Advice I Wish I’d Listened To in which I mentioned, as an aside, that if I had my time over again or I was about to self-publish a new project now, I wouldn’t bother self-publishing a POD paperback – at least to start with. I’d be all e-books instead. And then, if they took off, I’d capitalise on their success by also releasing a paperback. (That’s actually something a number of traditional publishers have started doing with their commercial fiction, especially crime/thrillers: e-books first, sometimes months before the book is available in paperback.) Today I thought I’d elaborate on why.
I Got Over The Fear
When you first self-publish – or when you first get published if your publisher decides to go e-book first, or your book is out in one country but not yet in another – you will probably experience The Fear, sparked by a conversation that goes something like this:
Random person: I can’t wait to read your book! Is it out yet?
You: [heart soaring] Yes! You can buy it right now. [whispers] Please do.
RP: Where can I get it?
You: On Amazon.
RP: What about Barnes and Noble?
You: Um… Well, you see, it’s only available in e-book.
RP: Oh, I don’t read e-books.
You: [sound of heart breaking]
See also: you releasing the first book of a series and someone asking ‘When is the next one out? I can’t wait to read it!’ and you panicking and hitting Publish on Book 2 five minutes later.
The Fear is the fear of losing a book sale. You encounter a reader who wants to read your book, who says they will buy it, except they’re not interested in the existing options for doing that. And so you rush and you panic and you start flailing about in a drowning depth of anxiety at the thought that you might be selling more books if only you were selling them differently. One more book, anyway.
To this I say: get a grip. Ignore these annoying people. Seriously. Because these people are not your target. Your target is the people who already love e-books, who gobble them up, who buy several of them a week, who will definitely encounter your e-book because you have a promotional plan in place, and who will definitely hit that Buy button because you have taken the time to write a great book, design a great cover, etc. etc. They are the millions of people we’re interested in. Not reader97481 who leaves a comment saying they don’t read e-books. Why should we care about reader97481, especially since (a) she is absolutely in the minority and (b) we’ve no guarantee she even means what she says? I guarantee you that despite you feeling like these people are just the tip of the iceberg and that if you just published a paperback, you’d be sitting pretty atop all the bestseller lists and paying your mortgage off in cash, this is not what will happen if you do.
We made an e-book. Like it or lump it.
Clearly, I got over the fear. You should too.
There’s No Point
This is the biggest reason for me: there’s no point. No self-publisher I know is selling more paperbacks than e-books, and I only know a very small number who are selling anything significant in paperback at all (and they are all selling HUGE amounts in e-book). So what’s the point? Unless you are a life coach who goes around talking to enthusiastic audiences of hundreds who all queue up afterwards to buy a copy of your book (and, in that case, you should really go to a printer where you can get a volume discount and avoid POD), you don’t need a physical book because it’s not going to sell enough copies to earn any kind of statistical significance in your self-published book sales. So why bother? If you have money to spend, put it in a Bookbub or boost a Facebook post. Don’t waste it on this.
It’s Much More Work Than It Seems
The thinking behind also releasing a paperback usually goes something like this:
- I may as well – it’s not that much more work
- I’ll sell more books because some people don’t read e-books.
As I said above, you almost certainly won’t sell more books – or at least, not enough of them to make this worth it. So scratch that. Which leaves it’s not that much more work or money.
But it is.
Let’s do money first. If you do your own formatting, I will allow that it’s not that much more money. But it is more of it. Formatting for Kindle is relatively easy and easily a DIY job, but formatting an entire book in MS Word is a whole other ballgame. And while you might get away with making a passable e-book cover for free with Canva or PicMonkey, you won’t get away with it for a POD cover, which has to be specifically sized to your spine and supplied to CreateSpace in PDF with everything where it should be, including your barcode space. Then it really is another chunk of money. And I sincerely hope you are ordering a proof copy and not just letting people hand over money for something you haven’t actually seen yourself, so there’s that too – plus shipping.
And it is more work – but you don’t yet realise how much more of it, because it’s in the future. POD paperbacks complicate things. If you’re in this for the long haul, you’re going to be releasing a number of books (let’s hope). Each time you have a new release, you need to go back and add mention of it to your previous books, e.g. add it to your Also By This Author list, or maybe include a preview or a link. It’s easy to do this in e-book. You just swap out the file. But with the paperback, you have to swap out the file and go through the proofing process again. You also have to deal with editions. You can’t change anything significant about your paperback without it becoming a new edition, and a new edition is a separate edition. It’s a whole new book. New ISBN and so, horror of horrors, a new listing. You might not be able to bring your reviews for the previous listing over. (That seems to be entirely up to Amazon’s discretion.)
And here’s the worst bit: if you make a new edition, an Amazon listing for your name becomes a wasteland of old editions that aren’t available anymore. Now multiply that by all your online retailers. It’s a mess. A paperback also sets a listing in stone forever. For-EVAH. That listing will never disappear because Amazon keeps the listing active in case MarketPlace sellers have secondhand editions to flog. If you just publish e-books, you don’t have to deal with any of this crap. There’ll only ever be one edition and, if you ever want to ‘unpublish’ it or replace it – change the title, for example – the old one will just disappear.
Actually, no, that’s not the worst bit. The worst bit is that when you publish a paperback, you leave yourself nowhere to hide. You create a huge, new space in which you can make a mistake. In which you can look amateurish. In which you can fail to be professional. What I mean by that is this:
When it comes to novels, self-publishers win at e-books. This is because we format them carefully ourselves and/or we pay other people to do them professionally but in both cases, we build them from scratch. Some traditional publishers use a work-flow to create e-books that takes another form, e.g. a PDF, and converts that into an e-book automatically. This, sometimes, creates errors. I can honestly say that I have encountered more errors in traditionally published e-books than I have in self-published ones. But…
I cannot say the same for POD paperbacks. When it comes to making a physical book, you don’t know what you don’t know. You think it’s easy enough, straightforward. Chapter headings, a table of contents, maybe even a jazzy running head. But so much work goes into the layout and design of the interiors of the books we pick up off our local bookshop’s shelves. You don’t even realise it. And that work is done by professionals. By book designers. Working with far more powerful software and years of experience than you. By producing a paperback, you increase the chances that you will make a mistake. That you will look like you don’t know what you’re doing. (I say this from personal experience. I made mistakes. Embarrassing ones. And if it wasn’t for the likes of The Book Designer, I wouldn’t even have known.) Why do this to yourself when, as outlined above, there’s really no point to it?
The exceptions to all this are, of course, books that really need to be published in print, like reference, cookbooks, workbooks, children’s books, YA books, etc. In other words: where the target audience prefers a print book. And you might need a proof for reviewers and/or to giveaway on Goodreads, but in that case (a) you don’t need a cover design, because Cover Creator will do and (b) it’s okay if proofs are just the text of the book without any ‘design’ element. They only need to be readable, not real books.
But for everything else, I just wouldn’t bother. Work smarter, not harder and all that jazz. Yes, you want to hold a physical book in your hand. Who doesn’t? But that’s a personal, emotional decision, not a business one. And this, if you’re doing it right, should be above all else a business.
Now, off to the writing cave with me for the weekend. Send coffee.
Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!