Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Is Print Still Important for Self-Published Authors? What Does the Flattening Sales of eBooks Mean for Self-publishing Authors?

Publisher's Weekly story on the decline in ebook sales indicates that while the industry is not alarmed, yet, the ebook market might be softening. What has caused this trend in the last quarter has quite a few industry experts speculating about what the decline in sales has been caused by. Some industry experts offer the following as possible explanations:
  • rise in prices due to the new contracts with Amazon.
  • saturation of the market.
  • changes in reader habits.
In reading various accounts of what the experts think, I find the change in reader habits the most interesting. These individuals argue people are returning to the traditional printed book in many instances, buying ebooks for when they travel or must carry the book with them to work or for work. The digital version, which can be read on nearly any device,  is easier to travel with. The traditional, familiar print version is a more complete reading experience.

I'm not an expert on this, but I can comment on my own sales and experiences as a reader. In the past quarter, my ebook sales have plummeted dramatically. My POD sales have held steady and actually increased in the past two months over last year's sales for the same months.

I write in a non-fiction niche and the possibilities for the changes in my sales can include saturation of my market and a preferences for the larger (8.5x11) print format paperback offers. The information in my books is illustration intensive and the paperback versions lend themselves to taking written notes in the book as well as duplication of key illustrations to share.

It is hard to know as a single author what causes a decline in sales. The variables are too many for me to track and make any real determination about.

My next book, due to be released in December, will appear only as a POD paperback. There will be no ebook edition for several reasons.

The first is there has been a rush to the bottom in my niche for ebook prices. The Kindle edition of a $19.95 paperback will only sell if priced $2.99.  My profit per unit is drastically smaller for the book sale. In order to make the same net, I have to sell four ebooks to every paperback.

Tracking four of my books and comparing the sales figures, I am starting to believe I should shelve the Kindle editions as an experiment for a month or two and see if my print sales for those titles increase in terms of units sold.

My forthcoming book will be huge, nearly 300 pages in length with almost 300 illustrations. The 8.5 x 11 inch format allows for a large amount of information to jammed into those 300 pages. The delivery fee, which I find reasonable and do not object to, for the sale of the Kindle edition will cut into my net significantly.

Pricing the paperback version at $24.95 will allow me to earn nearly $10 per unit sold. Pricing the same book at the Amazon desired $9.99 version, minus the nearly 70 cents per sale charge, will net me less than five dollars per sale. This of course only happens if I can convince my buying audience to pay $9.99 for the book. The past data I have for books this size says $4.99 seems to be the sweet spot for my readers.

The same sized book contentwise sells for $19.95 or $24.95 in its POD version. Clearly, finding a way to increase the number of print unit sales is critical for profitability. It's the same information, but I receive a better price for the actual print book than the ebook edition.

So my next book is not going to give my readers a choice. If they want the information, they are going to pay a fair price for it. There will be no ebook edition, a fact I plan to make clear in my marketing of the book.

I'm not trying to cut my nose off to spite my face. My small publishing business is just that, a business. It is a second income for my family. In asking the individuals who purchase my books if they think my pricing is reasonable, the responses are overwhelmingly favorable, for both print and ebook, a fact I find discouraging in regards to the ebook market.

For writers of fiction, where the potential number of customers is vastly greater than the niche I write for, I would price my novels in the price ranges most Indie authors sell their work for, $2.99 to $4.99. Creating a set of characters and a world allows you to build and audience for your work and continued publishing of books at reasonable prices means a large following and increased profitability through vastly increased unit sales.

I am beginning to think the same might not be true for non-fiction authors with a limited audience for their works.

And so it is that I will be taking a chance on my next book. If the audience wants the information, they have to pay for what it's worth in print. I am not going to provide a low cost option that reduces the value of my work and the hard won information being shared.

Time will tell if this is a mistake on my part, but it is a gamble I am willing to take on one book to see what I can learn, if anything.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Non-Fiction Authors: Want to Try Your Hand at Fiction - Try Fanfiction.net

Having written and self-published over 20 non-fiction books, the bug to try my hand at fiction bit. Writing fiction is a brand new ball game compared to writing a non-fiction book. Simply creating an interesting set of characters or storyline is simply not enough. It all has to work together in order for the story to be entertaining, to hold the reader's attention.

Some investigation led me to discover there is such a thing as writer's groups, where authors share their stories and get feedback from their fellow group members. Unfortunately, there are no such groups in the area I live in.

I know several authors who publish genre fiction who went to graduate school to earn MFAs in creative writing. I have a M.S. already and did not finish a MA in military history. More school is not in my future.

So how do I teach myself how to write fiction somebody would enjoy reading?

I stumbled upon the site fanfiction.net. Pick a TV show, book, movie, etc, that has any kind of a following and there are fans who write stories based on a particular book, movie, etc, using the world, canon and characters already created.

My first effort was a story to plug a hole in the storyline of a science fiction show I enjoyed on the Sci-Fy channel that had been canceled. It was fun to write and the end result was terrible. I did it just to scratch the itch from the fiction bug bite and to fill in a gap in the show's story line. It fit the universe and "rules of the canon" established by the shows creator and writers.

I was surprised at the number of people who read the story and reviewed it. The criticism of my storytelling was brutal, and almost all of it right on the money.  Surprisingly, many of critical reviewers who disliked my writing loved the story. 

Thick skin is probably necessary if you are going to write fiction. I took heed of the feedback and wrote another story. Still a disaster, but not as big a mess as the first effort. Same result. Reviews critical of my writing but raves about the story, all in the same review.

My last story was nineteen chapters long and over 40k words. It is my best effort so far and I can honestly say the end product is acceptable, mostly. I have learned a great deal about what does not work and what does.

The feedback has been truly helpful. These are not individuals who have an axe to grind or who have egos requiring they put down the writing of someone else. So long as you stay with in the created universe of the tv show or book you are basing your fanfiction on, the readers are fair in their reviews. They simply want to read good stories. Great writing is praised and suggestions are made, not to change your story, but to improve it.

Like ebooks, you can go back and update and change your story. The readers on this site are committed fans of the characters and universe you write in. They want to read entertaining stories. It is a great place to practice. Many of the readers will send private messages to the author, pointing out plot issues, gaps in the storyline and suggestions on how to repair the damage in a future chapter or a rewrite. I have yet to receive a hateful PM and all of the messages have been helpful in some way.

For me, this has been a great way to get my feet wet without having to create my own universe and characters. In fanfiction, it is acceptable to kill off established characters (often a character was disliked on the actual show or book) and the fans are delighted. You can add a character of your own creation and build a back story for the character. The fans will let you know if your ideas work or not.

Don't like how a favorite TV show ended? You can write an alternate ending that suits your sensibilities. Want to pair up to characters in a romantic storyline, you can do it. Want the villain to finally get what is coming to them? Plot your revenge! All so long as you stay within the universe, mythology if you like, of the story, it's all acceptable.

There are guidelines and you cannot profit from your stories. Take the time to read the guidelines before you write your first effort.

It's free to post stories and for me, it has been both fun and a learning experience.

Is the feedback from the fans the same has working with an editor or other experienced, professional writers? I doubt it. What it has shown me is I am able to create stories readers like to read and that has encouraged me to take the plunge and start researching how to write fiction and creating the world my story will take place in. 

Some of the stories are just awful. Others are better than actual episodes aired on TV, made into a movie or that have made it into print. Most fall somewhere in between.

If you are a non-fiction author and thinking of taking the plunge, try your hand at Fanfiction.net to see if you have what it takes to be a story teller. The writing skills can be learned.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

CreateSpace versus Nook Press for Print Publishing

Barnes and Noble has been struggling to compete with Amazon for some time and it is a battle for survival. For those who have been following the ebook wars, it is clear Amazon is winning the battle for device adoption and ebook format. Amazon supposedly controls about 67% of the ebook market, depending on whose numbers you refer to.

Amazon has aggressively pursued the print-on-demand (POD) share of the print market through its purchase and development of CreateSpace. Lightning Source has been CreateSpace's primary competitor for the POD market.

Barnes and Noble recently entered the fray with a print division of its Nook Press. Competition in the marketplace is a good thing, particularly for indie and self-publishing authors.

A quick examination of the Nook Press print web site gives the answer about whether or not Barnes and Noble will be able to compete with industry giants LSI and CreateSpace. The future, based on price per copy alone, looks doubtful for Nook Press.

Using the online price calculator provided a quote of $5 per book, less tax and S&H, was provided for a black and white, paperback edition with white paper in 6x9 trim with a page count of 201-250 pages.

The same book, with the maximum of 250 pages, from CreateSpace would cost $3.85. I did not bother to calculate the price for the same book from LSI.

Cost alone prevented me from investigating further in the ease of use of Nook Press. Granted, hardback editions and hardback with dust jackets are available, and for some authors that may be a factor.

The only possible advantage to using Nook Press is the possibility the books could be carried in the brick and mortar Barnes and Noble retail stores. I was not able to determine if this possibility exists from navigating the website.

If anyone has any additional insight into this new division of Nook Press, please comment.