Monday, April 30, 2012

Two Business Stories About Amazon and the Publishing Industry

It would appear others outside the world of publishing and self-publishing are beginning to take note of the changes Amazon is forcing on the publishing industry and the strides Amazon is making as an e-retailer.  I found both of these articles to be interesting. The links are below.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Using Apple's Pages to Produce eBooks - A Product Review of Necessity

Rare is the author who can make a good living with just one book. It generally takes several books and a following of readers to generate income. For self-published authors, not only do we need to generate a following, we need to be able to leverage name and product recognition every opportunity we can get. After writing the book itself, marketing our books is the most important task a self-published author has. If our potential readers do not know about our books, they won't buy them and read them.

Most self-published authors follow industry leader Aaron Shepard's advice and "Aim all of our sales at Amazon," basing our marketing strategy on his book Aiming at Amazon. In this book Aaron wisely suggests pushing all sales to Amazon, allowing Amazon's long tail do a lot of the marketing work for the author. Aaron advocates that not only should self-published authors take advantage of all the benefits of selling our books on Amazon, by pushing all of our sales to Amazon, we maximize the impact of Amazon's marketing machine.

This is a sound strategy and I one I have followed since I self-published my first non-fiction title in 2009. Since that time, things have changed. The Kindle and the Nook ereaders have revolutionized the industry. 

While my print-on-demand (POD) sales are higher than ever, my Kindle sales far outweigh my print sales. My lone Nook edition sells poorly by any standard of measurement.

So why worry about Nook sales at Barnes and Noble if all of my marketing efforts direct my potential customers to Amazon and Nook sales are so poor? Because of the change in how people read books.

A recent survey sent out to the readers on my e-mail list provided me with some very useful data. First of all, about 70% preferred eBooks over print! In the comment portion of the survey, many respondents asked that the bulk of my remaining books that are not available as ebooks be made available in an electronic format. 

What was even more surprising were the results to the questions of where my readers purchased their books, paperback or ebook, and which ereader device did they prefer. 70% indicated they purchased their books from Amazon but the remainder indicated Barnes and Noble. Roughly 65% indicated they preferred Amazon's Kindle with the remaining 35% preferring to use the Nook.

After letting this information soak in for a bit, I came to several conclusions. The first was I realized I had to overcome my resistance to convert all of my titles to an ebook format. The second was I needed to get over my hesitancy to covert books to the Nook ePub format as well. The horrendous low sales for my lone Nook edition, which sells very well in its POD and Kindle formats, might be in part due to the fact it is the only book available in the Nook format.

I will readily admit I am not the most technologically savvy individual. The thought of learning how to convert Word files to Kindle and ePub files terrifies me. I just know it is beyond my limited skill set. Compounding my "fears" is the fact my books are all non-fiction and some are filled with diagrams and photographs, making the conversion process even more difficult.

So, for the books I do have available as ebooks, I paid for the conversion process. It is not inexpensive and I selected carefully which books I would invest my limited funds in. Of the ten books I have had converted thus far, nine of the ten have earned out their investment in the conversion process, even the lone, poor selling Nook edition.

How do I enlarge my library of ebooks with out spending all of my profits on the conversion process? Some of these books will sell very slowly over time, making the investment of funds in the conversion a good way to tie up money for a long period of time.

The answer it would seem, would be to do the conversions myself. This way the only investment is my time. But where to start?

Totally by accident I discovered the Mac I have been issued at work comes with Pages, which has an export feature to convert Pages files into ePub files. These files supposedly can then be converted to Kindle files. Could this be the solution to my problem?

My initial efforts focused on five short books that were either all print with no diagrams or photographs or had limited diagrams and photographs. The plan was to convert these short books into ePub files and publish them as Nook editions at Barnes and Noble.

All five have been converted and are now on sale as Nook books at Barnes and Noble. I make no claims that these books are masterpieces of the ebook art form. I deliberately choose single topic books that in their POD form are 50 or fewer pages in length so I could avoid dealing with the dreaded table of contents issue.

The first step is to convert the Word file to a Pages file. This could not be easier. Just open Pages and then open the Word file in Pages. Then save the file as a Pages file. That's it.

You will need to obtain a guide on preparing files for ePub and eliminate all the quirks in a Word document that ePub does not like as well as reordering some of your pages, such as moving the front matter to the back of the book, etc.

When finished, click on the file button, click on Export and finally click on ePub and Pages will work its magic. You will see a box pop up when the conversion is finished that will list any problems with the file that need repairing.

Your interior file is now ready to upload for sale! The conversion is that simple.

I have yet to figure out how to get the cover inserted inside the interior, but since I almost never look at the cover once I open an eBook this might not be that big a failure on my part. The cover seems to be important for the store sight display at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Barnes and Noble allows you to preview your file when you upload it. In fact, it does it automatically on a built in review device on the screen, a feature that Amazon's Kindle lacks.

The next challenge is to learn how to build the dreaded Table of Contents and master all of the interior design styling quirks to make my books look as nice as possible in their ebook edition.

Supposedly these files will convert to Kindle files by loading the file in the software known as KindleGen. I have yet to manage to convert one of my ePub files because, while having successfully downloaded the free KindleGen file, I have yet to figure out how to insert the ePub file for conversion.

Using Pages to create ePub files took about 6 hours for the first conversion. I did the remaining four conversions in less than 45 minutes each and the bulk of that time was spent in deleting the elements of the file while still in Pages that needed to be removed before conversion to an ePub file.

Since I already have the use of a Mac and it is equipped with the Pages software, these five conversions cost me nothing but my time. It was easy to do and for me that is amazing given the struggles I have at times learning how to use technology.

Would I attempt to use the Pages software for my large books filled with diagrams and photographs? I don't know. In my lone attempt to try to do so just to see what the results would be, Pages has done some strange things to my file when it came to diagrams. Before I attempt to convert one of these books to ePub I have to figure out why Pages seems to want to copy and move diagrams.

But for books with only words? I will get all of my books that fall into that category converted into Nook editions withing the next few weeks.

Once that task is completed, I will start the process of tackling the conversion of my new Nook books to Kindle.

Friday, April 13, 2012

DOJ Lawsuit Good for Authors! It Is Not Always About Amazon!

"I applaud the Department of Justice. The DoJ lawsuit is good for authors and good for readers. The alleged conspiracy wasn’t just intended to keep Apple down, the DoJ complaint makes clear it was intended to keep down the royalties paid to successful authors as well." (read post this quote was taken from)

When I first read about the Department of Justice class action lawsuit against Apple and the Legacy publishers who colluded (allegedly) to establish the agency model of pricing, I immediately thought here comes the conspiracy theories about Amazon being behind this to be followed with the bemoaning of the fate of the publishing industry if the DoJ wins the lawsuit.

Then I read Morris Rosenthal's weekly blog, the quote from which is posted above with a link to read the rest of Morris' blog post. It would seem there is an overlooked factor in the case that most self-published authors who dislike Amazon would do well to note. So would all of the traditionally published authors who take the side of the Legacy Publishers against Amazon.

Part of the alleged conspiracy included not only price fixing, elimination of competition, etc, among the parties involved, but an organized effort to keep payments to authors as low as possible. In other words, binding the mouth of the Ox who turns the grindstone!  

Authors, not publishers, create the content  that publishing companies sell. Yes, they have a hand in the editing, design, marketing, etc, but the publishers do not create the content. The only real value they have these days is some control of a distribution system, but with print-on-demand and eBooks, that is of little real value these days as well, at least for the self-published author.

Why shouldn't the authors receive more of the money from the sale of eBooks? There is almost no expense involved in publishing an eBook and there is certainly no expense for physical production or physical distribution. There is plenty of money for everyone, it would just seem the publishers don't want to pay a reasonable and fair share to the very people the publishers rely on for creation of the product the publisher sells.

It would seem a bit short sighted on the part of the publisher. If I was a traditionally published author whose books sold well, I would have to take a look at self-publishing if my publisher was trying to make certain that I, and other authors, did not receive fair compensation for creation of the product the publishers sells, book content.

Amazon and Barnes and Nobel may be just playing nice for now with their large royalty rates they currently offer to authors who self-publish their eBooks with these two online book retailers (70% and 65% respectively when following pricing guidelines established by these two competing companies) to get authors to publish content directly and with no middleman taking a cut. Who knows what will happen down the road in the future.

Given the lack of cost involved in the production and distribution of eBooks, it is inexcusable for publishers to collude to pay as little as possible to the content makers, authors. In fact, it might have seemed like a good idea at the moment, but it is a bad long term policy. These entities are biting the hand that produces what feeds them all, the authors.

Books still need editing, good designs and quality covers. But all of this can be done by the author by hiring freelance editors, artists and individuals skilled in book design. Most authors today, self-published or not, have to do the lion's share of promoting and marketing the book, so what real aid to a mid-list author does a legacy publisher provide?

If the allegations in the DoJ suit are true concerning the collusion to keep payment to authors as low as possible, the anti-Amazon crowd may need to rethink their position. At least Amazon recognizes where the content comes from and will pay authors better than the traditional publishers do.

This lawsuit bears following by all individuals who have a iron in the fire. The outcome will have significant impact on the writing/content creation as well as publishing sides of the industry.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Understanding the Discounting Process for Self-Published Books

Ever feel confused about how to "discount" your book to retailers, wholesalers and distributors? It can certainly be a difficult issue to understand.

Joel Friedlander has an excellent post, with many valuable comments from experienced self-published authors on his blog, The Book Designer. To read the post and accompanying comments, click here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Value of Being in Touch With Your Readers

You read a lot about the need to engage in the various forms of social media to reach, and more importantly, engage potential readers, to form a relationship of sorts. There is without doubt some truth to this statement, I am just not convinced social media is the only way to do this.

Perhaps my hesitancy to drink the cool-aid for using social media is time, effort and it is just one more thing to have to do. I have a "real job" and a family so any time I have to write or work on the family self-publishing business is valuable. I have to make choices about which activity is the most important.

I do have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. I don't spend a lot of time on either and perhaps I should. What I do spend my time on are my two blogs that are content specific for the market niche I write non-fiction for. I also have an e-newsletter that goes out to 2,500+ individuals and this takes a fair amount of time to write and send every two weeks.

Why do I spend more time on the blogs and the newsletter? It is simple, I see measurable sales as the result of a particular effort on a blog or in the newsletter. I have yet to see measurable sales as a result of the social media efforts I do make.

Perhaps I am making a huge mistake. I don't really think so in my case. Most of the individuals who buy my books are a bit older and less likely to spend hours on Facebook or following me on Twitter. My wife thinks I need to invest more time and cultivate younger customers so the market for my non-fiction books will grow over time.

As I am not willing to really spend that much more time, I do have to sleep sometime or another, I have tried to get my two daughters to do the social media marketing for me. No luck - they are too busy Facebooking with their friends.

The real point of this point is regardless of how you engage your readers, you need to engage them and do so in a manner that does not cost your readers money. You need to convince them your book, be it fiction or non-fiction, is worth purchasing and reading.

You need to know the best way to reach and stay in touch with your readers. If it is social media, that is the way to go about staying in touch. If it is through blogs and a newsletter, that is the best way.  Just make sure you stay in touch!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Don't Forget Amazon in Your Marketing Plan

I read some great blog posts today about building an author platform, using social media, etc. All good ideas and essential in marketing a book. But how many authors who self-publish forget to maximize the long tail or the Amazon marketing/book selling machine?

My next book should be ready to go from CreateSpace this week as the final cover design has been approved. The all important Kindle version, as well as the Nook version, will be ready for upload late this April. As I was going through my check list of who was to receive complimentary review copies, proofing again my e-newsletter edition announcing the release of the book on Amazon, etc, it hit me.

I haven't given a thought about maximizing the leverage of the Amazon marketing machine. I have not written any thing to add to the product information, though I did do a better than normal job writing the copy for Amazon when the files were uploaded to CreateSpace.

It occurred to me I need to pull out Aaron Shepard's classic Aiming at Amazon this week and go through it once again with a notepad in hand. My to do list for the week now includes a command to  go through this classic and create a detailed and specific action list of marketing and promotional activities to be carried out using Amazon and all the options available to a self-publishing author.

With the emphasis on the other aspects of book marketing, it is tempting, or easy, for authors to forget the power of Amazon and the fact we have some control over the book marketing process when it comes to Amazon. So, I encourage authors to keep Amazon in mind when planning their marketing strategy.