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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

e-books

A Ray of Sunshine in a Dark Week

I'm actually starting to feel a bit better, although the creative juices still don't flow easily.  However, there was some great publishing news this week, and I want to share it with all my writer friends who worry that indie writers are going to be trampled by the traditional publishers in league with the behemoth that is Amazon.  Take a look at this chart:






























It's showing us that in the past fifteen months indie publishers have sold something in the neighborhood of 38% of all ebooks purchased -- outdoing Amazon, the Big Five, and the other small publishing houses.  Indies have seen a whopping 12% increase in sales. The Big Five appear to be in a -10% freefall, and the smaller traditional publishers are just barely managing to hold their own.

The only other line that shows an increase  -- and it is only 4% -- is the Amazon -published line.  Amazon sells books from all kinds of publishers, of course, including ours, but  the books it chooses to publish "in house" are far from becoming a threat even to the traditional publishers.

By the way, that flat light blue line at the bottom indicates things like cookbooks sold as fund-raisers, photograph collections put together for family reunions, collections of poetry written by students in a creative writing class -- those books that are not intended or marketed for the general reading public.

Despite all the nay-sayers who have been predicting that the days of publishing an electronic book and having it become a success are over, we're doing quite well, thank you.

For the serious indie publishers, it would be well worth your time to read the entire article from which this chart was borrowed. Find it at: http://authorearnings.com/report/may-2015-author-earnings-report/ 

Second Thoughts on Publishing an E-Book


Do you really need to publish your book as an eBook?  Won't that hurt your "real" book sales?  Isn't there something perverse about writing a book and then publishing it as something that is not really a book? Over on one of the discussion lists I follow, there's a debate going on right now about publishing in both hardback and paperback editions at the same time.  That's dangerous enough.  Why complicate matters by putting your hard work out there in some electronic form that people can't even pick up?  I've heard all these questions, and I understand the unwillingness to jump into a new-fangled technology.  But please pay attention.  You NEED to do this!

I understand how satisfying it is to pick up a beautiful book and be able to say, "Hey! I wrote this. This is mine."  The thrill of finding your book in a bookstore -- maybe on a table at the very front of the store -- is worth all the effort you put into it.  But what do you really want?  You write because you want others to read.  If you want to keep your words secret, get a diary and hide it under your mattress.  If you want living, breathing readers who will engage in  your ideas, you have to go out and find them where they are.  And the truth is that more and more readers are turning to e-books as their reading choice.

I'm not going to go into all the reasons WHY people like e-books.  Let's just accept the fact that readers are turning more and more often to their electronic gadgets instead of lugging around a book. And when they are looking for a good read, they have lots of choices. According to one set of figures I saw recently, there are more than 900,000 books for sale in the Kindle Store.  With an e-reader, you can also have access to 1.8 million out-of-copyright books published prior to 1923.  And they are FREE. With all those choices, who (except your mother) would pay $25.00 for  your real book?

As the diagram shows, the question is not whether to publish an e-book, but in what format. Should you go with Kindle, or Apple's iBook, or the Nook, or the Sony reader, or . . . . ? The answer is YES. Until the industry settles down and creates a single standard, you need to put your material out there in every available format.  That sounds daunting.  If you're a complete technological klutz, you can hire someone to do the formatting for you, but it's really not all that tough.

Start with Kindle.  Kindle editions show up as format choices on Amazon.com, right along with your print edition, and a large share of the reading audience will find your e-book there.  Kindle offers complete instructions on how to submit your manuscript in acceptable format. They accept Word files (.DOC)  or .PDF, or .TXT among others.  Just follow the instructions here, and your e-book will appeal like magic.

Then turn to Smashwords.  These folks take your .DOC file and convert your work into all the different formats needed for  second-tier readers.  They also handle the distribution of your files to the ordering websites of all of those different readers.  There is no charge for that service, and they stand behind their work.  Apple's iBook store recently tightened their standards for e-book coding and notified me that my version of Beyond All Price had coding errors.  I simply forwarded the message to Smashwords, and they fixed the problem within hours.  They make their own money by featuring your book as a page in their own catalog and taking a small amount of the sales from that catalog as their profit.  You get about 60% to 85% of the sale, without doing anything except letting them put  your work out there.

There it is: No difficult formatting.  No inventory to clutter you dining room.  No sales pitches to deliver.  No advertising to pay for. No sales to handle. No shipping to worry about. Just money coming in, steadily and reliably every month.

Why wouldn't you do this?

How Much Do You Leave by the Side of the Road?

I'm getting ready for another research and book-promotion trip to South Carolina's Low Country.  I have a couple of speaking engagements lined up, so I've been thinking a lot about how to describe my work, and how to get readers interested in my stories.  A while ago, I hit upon the idea to gather up all my "out-takes" and publish them as short stories.  These are pieces I love--characters and situations that fascinated me while I was writing something else. I never published a paper version of them, although that may happen down the road when I've collected a few more stories that have to be abandoned in favor of something more important.  But in the meantime, this little collection is available on Kindle, and it's free for the next two days. The sale started last night at midnight and will end on Thursday night at midnight.

"Left by the Side of the Road" is a collection of short stories about life in South Carolina's Low Country during the Civil War. It is not a continuous novel, or even a novella, although I have tried to maintain some chronological order among the stories. There is no single plot or story line. The collection is simply that--a series of glimpses into the past.

The characters are real historical figures: slaves who were abandoned when the plantation owners fled in fear of the invading Union Army; government officials charged with the logistics of organizing captured territory; Army officers and the women who accompanied them; and abolitionists determined to prove that former slaves could become productive citizens.

Some of these people have appeared in my past books, "A Scratch with the Rebels" and "Beyond All Price." Others will make cameo appearances in my newly-released book, "The Road to Frogmore." All of them are here because they share certain characteristics. They are fascinating people in their own right, but they do not play a major role in the story of Laura Towne and the founding of a school for former slaves at Frogmore. They are characters who were literally "left by the side of the road" as Laura's story developed.

All of these interesting people may some day become main characters in novels of their own. But for now, they serve two purposes. Through their observations and experiences they shed additional light on what life was really like during the Civil War. And more important, they form bridges between the stories I have already told and those that are yet to come.

Get the collection now at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008K32SZ4

Tip #4: Know Your Audience

There's an old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket. For those whose only experience with eggs comes on a plate or in the supermarket, let's change it to "Don't pin all your marketing hopes on a single format." If you want to sell your books, you have to start by figuring out who is in your potential audience.  And then you have to find them. You may have already noticed that there are not very many teenagers in bookstores these days. And we've recently been told that college students now find plain e-books boring. But only about 19% of all adult readers actually own a device that lets them read electronic editions of books. We live in a rapidly changing society, and we have to keep up with the latest preferences, but we can't afford to ignore any segment of the reading public.

It can also be confusing to listen to the pundits talk about the latest trends. On one website, we're told that print books are dead, and e-books are the only viable publishing option.  Another says that print books are alive and well, while e-books are a passing fancy. Who do you believe? Well, both, actually.  Let's start by looking at the figures.

In the pie chart, the red segment represents the revenue earned by print books in 2011. Blue represents e-books, and green is for audio books. Conclusion: e-books only yield 15% of the total dollars spent on books. Are you willing to rely solely on Kindle for your income, or would you like a chunk of the other 85%?

Now look at the line graph on the right. The yellow line represents the number of copies sold in print books in the past 15 years. The orange line is for the number of e-books sold. Obviously, e-books are now outselling print books if you just count copies. The lines crossed in 2011. So the answer to the debate between print and Kindle depends on what you want to count.

For me, there are two lessons to be learned here:

 Tip #4.1: Books of all kinds are more popular than ever, so keep writing.  There's a hungry audience out there.
 Tip #4.2: Don't limit yourself to one format. By all means, do use Kindle, but back it up with print copies.


Kindle Tip #3: Format Carefully

You've probably seen an e-book with horrible formatting -- half-lines, gaps where there shouldn't be any, phrases left out, disappearing images, blanks. And you know how annoying they can be.  I know of no quicker way to drive your readers away. You must either resolve to learn the rules or to pay someone to do the formatting for you. But under no circumstances should you let your traditional publisher do the formatting for you.  Not only do most not understand the rules -- they also have no stake in producing an e-book that readers can buy more cheaply than their own print version. I usually have CreateSpace do my conversions for $65.00 a book, because they are a branch of Amazon and understand the process.

A Kindle or other e-reader is NOT a book.  Its size is not set; the reader can make type larger or smaller. It has no pages, and you can't open it at random.  You can't easily read the last page first, if you're one of those who wants to know what happens in advance. Its multiple files are a mystery to most of us who are used to typing manuscripts in  linear fashion.  Fortunately, however, there are rules to help you produce a working Kindle document, even if you don't understand a thing you are doing!
Once again, let me remind you to consult the full set of rules in the free Kindle publishing guide, which you can download at: <http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00822K3Z0>. And be sure you download a fresh copy just before you are ready to begin the formatting, in case Amazon changes the rules. (They tend to do that!)

Start by taking your .doc file and doing a massive "search and replace" operation on it.  Remove all hyphens within a word, all tabs, all double spaces, and all double paragraph breaks. Get rid of all headers and footers, including page numbers (Kindles don't have pages, remember.)

Do any necessary formatting by using the "Format Paragraph" menu. You can choose the size of your paragraph indents there, but keep them small. You can also choose to leave a space between paragraphs if you prefer not to indent. Just don't do both.
 
Before you submit your file, be sure to preview the document on the KDP publishing website, just to be certain that it looks the way you want it  to.