Friday, August 12, 2011

Guest Blog Today: SARAH ETTRITCH

Print or eBook? Why Print is No Longer the Default Choice
In early 2010, Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death, the first book I published through my publishing company, Norn Publishing, hit the online bookstores. Going to print was a no-brainer. The eBook was an afterthought.

Then the eBook revolution took publishing by storm, and the dust hasn’t settled yet.

When it came time to publish my latest book, I had a decision to make: print, eBook, or both? A mere sixteen months earlier, print would have been a given.

I decided to make Threaded Through Time, Book One available as an eBook only. Why? Like many self-publishers, I sell way more eBooks than print books. To illustrate, I tallied up my sales numbers for 2011 (through July), and my sales breakdown was 90% eBook, 10% print. Since Threaded Through Time, Book One is only available in eBook, I didn’t include it in my calculations. The breakdown applies to my three books that are available in both formats.

When faced with a data like that, it’s difficult to justify the extra time and expense required to take a story to print. Editing is always a given, so let’s move that aside and examine the areas where print and eBook differ: cover design, formatting, and setup fees.

Cover Design
An eBook cover is a simple JPG file. I can hear cover designers screaming that it’s not that simple to design one, but I mean simple to produce relative to print covers. :)

Print covers are more complicated. Printers require what’s called a print-ready PDF file, and each printer has unique specifications, some of them quite technical. In addition, the cover designer has to design the front cover, back cover, and spine. As you can guess, this means that print covers are more expensive than eBook covers.

If you’re publishing in both print and eBook, the eBook cover cost is absorbed by the print cover cost, since the eBook cover is just a JPG of the print front cover. But you’ll pay more for that print cover than you would have paid for only an eBook cover.

Formatting an eBook means taking a Word file and converting it to formats that can be read by Kindles, nooks, kobo readers, etc. You can do it yourself, or you can pay a formatter to do it for you, usually for less than $100.00.

Print books have to be typeset. This is usually expensive, and will definitely cost you more than $100.00. If you do it yourself, you’ll have to teach yourself how to typeset, and you’ll probably have to buy pricey typesetting software to get a professional look.

Setup Fees
Most eBook venues don’t charge you to upload a book. If you use Amazon KDP and an aggregator like Smashwords, you can upload your eBooks to all the major venues for free.

When it comes to print, you’re looking at setup fees. CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service, only charges to send a proof copy to your home (a test print of your book, so you can see what it looks like and correct any problems before you release it into the wild). When you sell a book on Amazon, CreateSpace takes 40% of the list price. If you put your book into CreateSpace’s extended distribution channel and sell a book through one of its extended partners, CreateSpace will take a hefty 60% of each sale.

Lightning Source, another popular print-on-demand printer, charges a $75 setup fee, $30 for your proof, and a $12/title/year catalog fee. But you can set things up so that you only give up 20% of each sale, no matter where you sell your book. You pay more up front than you would with CreateSpace, but you also keep more money on each copy sold. Over time, you’ll earn more by going through Lightning Source.

The setup costs will vary depending on the printer. Since there are reasonable ways to get your eBooks into all the major venues for free, setup costs are an extra expense for print books that eBooks don’t have.

Do it All For Free
Sure, you can do the cover and formatting yourself and pay $0. However, not all of us are talented cover designers or know how to typeset. If you want your print book to look as professional as those released by traditional publishers, you probably don’t want to do it all yourself.

My Books
Let’s get back to my decision.  I don’t do my own covers. I used a talented designer named Patty Henderson—perhaps you’ve heard of her! Patty charges more for a print cover than she does for an eBook cover, as all designers do. Formatting is a wash for me, because I format my own eBooks and typeset my print books. I use Lightning Source for printing, so that’s $75 + $30 + $12 = $117 extra for print.

Overall, taking a book to print costs me several hundred dollars above and beyond what I’ve already paid to take it to eBook. As I said earlier, it’s difficult to justify that cost, given the number of print books I typically sell and how long it will take me to earn back those several hundred dollars. Going to print would put me hundreds of dollars in the red before I get started, and that’s in addition to the editing dollars I’ve spent. But while editing is essential, taking a book to print is no longer required to sell a decent number of books.

On the Fence
Having said all that, I still haven’t decided whether to take Threaded Through Time, Book One to print.  As the title implies, Book One is the first book in a series (of two). If I do take the story to print, I’ll do it by releasing Books One and Two in a single print volume. I’ll pay the cover design costs and setup fees once, rather than twice.

Conventional wisdom says to offer your book in as many formats as possible, but if your data tells you that not many are buying print, then releasing a title as an eBook only can make more sense.
Publishing only eBooks isn’t new. Some publishers have always been eBook only publishers, and new digital publishers are springing up all the time. Others initially release to eBook and take only those that sell well to print.

If you’re wondering what you should do, think about how many print books you expect to sell vs. how much it will cost you to produce a print version. If going to print will significantly multiply the number of books you’ll have to sell to break even, it might not be worth it.

Keep in mind that not going to print isn’t an irreversible decision. If your eBook sells well and you’re confident that you’ll make back your extra print costs, go for it. Or perhaps you’re in it for the long haul and won’t mind if it takes 20 years to recoup your costs. That’s okay too. When it comes to self-publishing, it’s whatever works for you.

About Me
To learn more about me and my books, visit
Thanks for hosting me today, Patty.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's an Editor's Market

How many of you indie authors use professional editors? No, this is not a rhetorical question. Once we decide to self-publish, the responsibility falls on each author to put out a book with production values and looks that can compete with any book published by a small press or even the Big NY guys. No easy task, I know. But I love my fiercely independent streak and wouldn't sign a book contract at this point in my writing life.

Although I'm one of those authors who self-edits as she writes, I am a firm believer that you must have your manuscript edited or at the very least, proofread by someone that knows the business or is damn good at editing (yes, I believe there are born editors out there. LOL.)  When I was with Bella Books, my editor was one of the best. She interned and did some editing for a NY publisher. I was very fortunate to have had her as my editor. When I requested to be released from my contract with them, I used the same editor for my next book because she has her own freelance editing business. However, she was expensive. $1,200 for a 59,000 word manuscript.

I know many of us are hurting in this economy. My thoughts are: How many self-published authors are going to begin getting creative in how they pay for editing? How many will only go with several good, high quality beta readers? Or how many will just learn to self-edit? Still, I have to wonder how many professional editors will be willing to take payment plans? Even with a very generous payment plan, I still owe the final payment to my editor. I will not be able to afford $1,200 again for editing. I will lean heavily on my own editing potential and use the services of good, reputable beta readers and one good friend who is really a great editor although she has no business and doesn't even do it freelance. I pay her a small fee because I feel she deserves some compensation. But it isn't anywhere near the cost of most editors advertising their services. I've been saying that editors are going to be the main gainers in the eBook and self-publishing revolution.

So my question is one of concern for all self-publishing authors. How are you handling the costs of self-publishing? The cost of editing, book formatting (if you're going to publish in paper) and also eBook conversions. How many have learned to do the work yourself?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

GUEST BLOG: M. Louisa Locke on Selling Your Kindle Book

7 Tips on how to sell books on Kindle

First of all, why should you listen to me, an unknown author, tell you how to sell your book on Kindle? A little more than a year ago, I was a semi-retired professor of U.S. Women’s history who, besides a few academic articles, had never published a thing. What I did have was a manuscript of an historical mystery I had written 20 years earlier, based on my doctoral research on working women in the late nineteenth century. In the 20 years after writing the first draft, while I pursued my teaching career, I found an agent, collected rejections, lost an agent, published briefly with a small Print on Demand (POD) press, rewrote the manuscript several times, and I was now giving the book one more chance. I also owned a Kindle, which I loved. After serious investigation, I decided to publish my book, Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco, as an ebook with Amazon and Smashwords, and in print through CreateSpace. I paid for a cover design, but put the book up on Kindle myself. That was December of 2009.

Since then, I have sold over 9000 books, the vast majority of them from the Kindle store. I now average 55 books sold a day, and I am making enough money that I have retired completely to work on the sequel, Uneasy Spirits. When I started, I had no particular expertise and no fan base, but I did have access to a world of advice being put out daily on blogs and websites hosted by indie authors, designers, editors, and marketers. I found that when I put their advice to work, was patient, and persistent, it paid off. Here are some of my tips distilled from what I learned from others and my own experience. 

Tip #1: Think about selling from the buyer’s perspective. When a reader goes to buy a book in a traditional bookstore, they either go to the store looking for a specific book because they have heard about it, or they browse the shelves and tables in the store and discover a book. Then they either buy it or they don’t. As an author of an ebook, you need to figure out how readers are going to find out about your book or find it among all the more than 800,000 books in the Kindle store. Then you are going to have to do everything to make sure that once they have found it, they buy it.

Tip #2: Hang out where readers of Kindle books hang out. While you can promote your book through traditional means (print reviews, book tours and signings, mailed postcards, conventions, business cards), increasingly this is a world where potential readers hang out in cyberspace. They find book reviews on blogs like Mysteries and My Musings that specialize in reviewing the genre they, they look for lists on line (Cozy Mystery List or Historical Mystery Fiction), they “like” the facebook pages of their favorite author or favorite subgenre (Mystery Most Cozy), they follow twitter #tags, they join reader sites like GoodReads, and they subscribe to blogs and groups that cater to Kindle owners like KindleBoards, Kindle Forum, Kindlechat, or Kindle Nation Daily.

As an author you need to go to these sites, sign up, become active, and participate in the conversations. Most of these sites let you put up a profile picture, and if people begin to see your face, they will begin to feel like they know you. Your voice in a comment or a guest blog post or a Goodreads review will tell a potential reader if they think they will like your perspective on the world. Your customized signature, with links back to your author website and or blog, and small pictures of your book covers, linked to your Amazon product page, play the role of your business card. The more times a potential reader runs across your name and your book titles, the more likely they will decide to put that name and book title into their search bar when they are looking for new books to download.

Tip #3: Besides having a well-written and edited book, your cover design, interior design and formatting are the most crucial elements to success. If you are going to shell out any money out front-this is where to spend it. If the cover looks home made, or you can’t read the title and author in a small thumbnail, or if the cover doesn’t convey the type of book it is (thriller, cozy, etc), then the reader isn’t going to make the effort to find it, look at, it or buy it. If the book is hard to read and has lots of formatting errors in the excerpt, they will also take a pass. If you have the technological expertise or design experience, you can do this yourself, but if you don’t, this isn’t where to skimp. There are lots of freelancers out there with reasonable rates. See a recent post on do’s and don’ts of cover designs or the blog by Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer

Tip #4: Make sure your book is ready for prime time before you start to promote. Your product description needs to be well-written, your excerpt must be available, and you should have at least 4-5 reviews written by professional reviewers (not just friends and family members). There are more and more websites, blogs, and enewsletters that are willing to review ebooks, and with Kindle gift certificates you can easily send a free copy to a reviewer. Most professional reviewers will then go on and put their reviews on Amazon. However, it is a good idea to have a print edition (POD) to send to those reviewers who insist on this.

Tip #5: Make your pricing competitive. Go to the specific categories in which your book will show up and look at prices of your competitors. If you aren’t a big name with a new release, $2.99-3.99 is probably the safest price point for genre fiction. While 99 cents is ok for an initial offering, in order to get a bump in sales to send you up the rankings, you really have to sell a lot to make up for the loss of the 70% royalty Amazon gives for books between $2.99-9.99. For example, if you look at the vast majority of other books in the historical mystery category, they are $6 and above, often for books that have been out for five or more years. This means there is a good chance they have either already been read by the buyer, or simply seem too expensive for an ebook, when the paperback or hard cover book may be only a few dollars more (or sometimes even the same or a lower price than the ebook. What are those traditional publishers thinking???) No wonder I am out-selling those books.

Tip #6: Don’t make your big promotional push prematurely. Banners on Kindle sites, promotional packages on Kindle Nation Daily, paying for an ad blitz, or promotional contests, can cause a temporary bump in sales. But only if everything else is in place (see tip #4. If the book ranking is too far away from them top 100s in the rankings of any sub-category, a temporary bump isn’t going get the book up high enough in the rankings to self-perpetuate the sales. One of the wonderful things about self-publishing is that you have time. Time to tweak your cover or book blurb, time to get those book reviews, time to correct errors in the text, time to build your readership and your rankings. Then spend the time and money on the big promotional push.

Tip #7: Use Amazon’s browsing capabilities effectively. If you were selling your book in a traditional bookstore, you would hope that the buyer would find your book by browsing the bookshelves. They would have the best chance of finding your book if it was on one of the bestseller or bargain tables at the front of the store, or had a little “staff recommends tag” on the book on the shelf. What would be awful would be if your book wasn’t shelved in the right place, so the potential reader looking for a good mystery to read, didn’t find your book there because it was shelved in general fiction, or romance.

What is truly wonderful about publishing on Kindle, is that your book will be recommended or find its way to the bestseller table along side the traditionally published books at no additional cost or personal contact with the bookstore.

First, when a buyer goes to the Kindle store, if they have purchased book in your category, your book may show up in the list that says “Recommended for you.” Or, your book can show up on the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” list at the bottom of the screen. I’ll never forget when I went to look for an Anne Perry book--the star of Victorian mysteries—and found my book on that list!! If you sell enough books, Amazon will actually send out little emails to targeted customers saying that they think they might like your book. Talk about free promotional support!

Finally, if your book sells enough and has good enough reviews, your book can make the over all top 100 ranked books on Kindle (I have made it to the 200s, so I have hope) or more likely, it will make it to the top 100 in a sub-category (as I have in historical mysteries) and be called a best seller. Readers browse through those best sellers looking for books to buy. If you make it into the top 10-20 books in a specific sub-category, this means if someone browses in that category that your book will pop right up on the screen, ready and waiting for an impulse buy.

But none of the above is likely happen if your book can’t be found in the right browsing categories. As an indie author, this is your responsibility. When you upload your book you have five choices of browsing paths. Think carefully, but inventively. If I had just listed my novel in the main category, “mystery & thriller,” Maids of Misfortune would be competing against 32,000 other books in the Kindle store. But if I instead chose the sub-category of “mystery,” my book would then be competing in a group of 8000. Better odds, but still not great. When I went even further, and chose an additional sub-category, “women sleuths,” my book now is in a category with 5300 other books, giving it even better odds of being found. However, when I put in the right tags on my book as well, for example the tag “historical,” and the buyer puts that tag into the search box, because 5300 books is still too much to for them to browse though, my book becomes one of only 446 books listed. Bingo! In fact if you do that today, Maids of Misfortune comes up number one.

Check to make sure that your combination of five browsing categories and sub-categories and the tags you have listed gives you the most competitive advantage. Initially, because of a computer glitch, Maids of Misfortune didn’t show up in the historical mysteries sub-category. I still sold books, but not that many of them. Once I got this fixed and got my reviews in place (tip #4) and lowered my price (tip #5), I did my one big promotional push-got my short story on Kindle Nation Daily shorts (tip #6), and Maids of Misfortune ran to the top of the historical mysteries category, where it has been ever since, my sales success began.

So, time, patience, persistence, attention to my 7 tips, and, of course a well-written book, and the Kindle store can be a great place for indie authors to sell books.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Full Circle

Perhaps I should issue some sort of apology for not blogging since October 14th, but since my mom died on October 5th, neither the need or desire has compelled me to come here and pitter-patter away on my keyboard.

I can't promise how often this blog will be active, perhaps more than usual or less, but today, I wanted to reflect on the state of my publishing and my writing and how I believe I have come full circle in both. This will not be a short and pithy blog entry (I don't think I'm made up of short and pithy, anyway).

I've been writing since the 60s and published since the late 60s, early 70s. When I say published, I  don't mean novels or books. No, that didn't come until 2001. In 1969, I began to bask in the limelight of publication in fanzines. PARAGON ILLUSTRATED was a semi-professional fanzine published by Bill Black, artist and writer. I got my first big break with him writing under a pen name. I wrote "Dark Zodiac" entries, short fictional illuminations of the dark side of each zodiac sign. Bill Black did the illustrations. Unfortunately, I only did two or three zodiac signs and then devoted the rest of my writing to short stories. I was so very fortunate to come across Dale Donaldson, a pioneer in horror fiction during the 1970s. He was just launching his MOONBROTH fanzine. It was a unique publishing endeavor and one that appealed to my bohemian publishing leanings. You see, Dale Donaldson's idea for MOONBROTH was that of issuing stories and artwork as loose leaf, photocopied colored pages with holes pre-punched so you could make your own magazine binder. I liked what he was doing and the fiction he was accepting. Jessica Amanda Salmonson and Janet Fox both started out in MOONBROTH. Salmonson went on to publish the excellent "Tomoe Gozen" female samurai series. If you can find the mass market paperbacks, buy them and enjoy. I was writing then because I loved to write. For me, it was a drug I didn't want to be weened off of. I found inspiration everywhere. I never expected to be famous or even entertained the desire. Dale Donaldson was very supportive of my writing and assured me I would make it to the "pros" one day. I had my doubts. Dale published three or four of my dark, horror short stories, I think. When Dale got sick......very sick, MOONBROTH folded. And Dale Donaldson passed away. There has been a Dale Donaldson Memorial Award created in his name. The void that his death and the death of MOONBROTH left in my writing life got filled with my own little petty attempts at home-spun fanzines. These were basically done at home on my typewriter....yes, typewriter, and distributed to friends and some who wanted copies. Remember, this was 1971 or 1972. I  never submitted another short story to a fanzine again.

Life interfered shortly thereafter and I basically gave up writing. Since this is not a reflection on my personal life, we'll skip that and jump ahead to 1997. The writing Muse apparently decided I deserved another chance at penning dark fiction and I became quite obsessed with a tale of vampirism unlike others I'd read and were being published. I had officially "come out of the closet" and thought that vampire fiction always seemed to focus on male vampires and their helpless female conquests. Enamored of the film "The Hunger," where chic vampire Catherine Deneuve seduces Susan Sarandon into the vampire life in a really sexual yet exquisite scene, I was determined to write a female, lesbian vampire book that used all the trappings of traditional vampire lore, yet infusing it with more innovative ideas. The book, SO DEAD, MY LOVE, was published in 2001. I have since published a new edition, SO DEAD, MY  LOVE, Author's Choice edition.

Leaving vampires behind, I decided it was my turn to write my "haunted house" story. But I didn't want it to be just another haunted house story. Besides horror and supernatural fiction, I also enjoy mysteries. I wanted to blend mystery and my love for the supernatural together. And I had a private investigator in mind. But she wouldn't be just any regular private investigator. She has psychic powers. The "X-Files"  was very big in television in 2000 when I started writing the first Brenda Strange book, THE BURNING OF HER SIN, and could be positively compared to the cases Brenda Strange sometimes gets involved with. Brenda Strange and her supernatural adventures came about from my love of the supernatural and the mystery. It seemed a perfect blend. Her name came from my passion for the Marvel comic book hero, Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts and Sorcerer Supreme, and my fascination with an old comic strip, Brenda Starr, Reporter. She was an adventurous female reporter. So far, there are four Brenda Strange novels published, THE BURNING OF HER SIN, TANGLED AND DARK, THE MISSING PAGE, and XIMORA, with more to come.

But publication didn't come easy. I have my own horror stories forever branded in my memory of the road to publication. To keep this blog within a reasonable length, I neither became famous or rich from my writing. Having signed and resigned from four publishers, I am now my own publisher, making quarters from my writings and once again, doing it on my own, with my own publishing imprint, Black Car Publishing. This time, I'm using digital, Print On Demand and eBook publishing and not a typewriter. Independent publishing has empowered many an author to keep and retain their rights and their royalties. I will never sign a contract with a publisher again. Yes, I remain still, a publishing bohemian.

The question remains, do I still have enough passion to write only because I love to write? At 60, the pixie dust and stars of fame and fortune in publishing have long disappeared from my eyes. I'm back to writing and publishing not for big publishing contracts or publicity, but because I still have stories to tell and the passion to write them. It no longer matters if only one or two enjoy the stories or buy my books. I enjoy writing them and sharing them. The same way I did back when typewriter ribbons came in either black or two-tone black and red. Full circle.