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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

February 2018

Times--They Are a'Changin'--Again

Back when I was writing The Second Mouse Goes Digital, I made a brief statement about Amazon’s newest publishing offer:
 
“KDP Print is offering a new way to publish a print version of your Kindle Select book. The idea bothers me a bit because it seems to be undercutting CreateSpace, which is also a part of the Amazon family. KDP Print takes your Kindle publication and turns it into a printed paperback.”
 
I knew there was something going on that we mere authors were not being told. I just failed to guess what it was. However, it did not take long for the rest of the story to appear. Since CreateSpace‘s facilities are located in Charleston, South Carolina, the local newspaper was the first to leak the word to employees. In January, Charleston’s Post and Courier published the following announcement from Amazon:
 
After a thorough review of our service offerings, we’ve made the decision to discontinue CreateSpace’s paid professional editing, design and marketing services. We will work closely with impacted employees through this transition to help them find new roles within the company or assist them with pursuing opportunities outside the company.
 
Many customers discovered the changes when BookBaby leaped into a golden opportunity to steal customers from Amazon. On January 17, their webpage announced CreateSpace’s changes and then pointed out that they offered most of the services that CreateSpace was discontinuing. They promised never to abandon their customers like those big companies had just done.
 
Others learned of the change when they visited CreateSpace’s webpage:
CreateSpace no longer offers any paid professional services, such as editing, interior or cover design, or conversion to eBooks.

If you’re an author with incomplete services, please log into your CreateSpace account to send any questions you have to the Services Project Team. 

If you’re an author who completed a cover or interior design service with our CreateSpace Services team and want to make changes to your files, you can purchase and submit a changes service until March 15, 2018. All services must be completed by April 20, 2018. Once you’ve paid the fee, we’ll get to work making your changes.
 
Needless to say, my chapter on “Choosing the Right Production Company” would have been quite different if I had written it in 2018 rather than 2017. Nevertheless, I can sum up my advice simply. Now that Amazon has changed CreateSpace’s role, it really doesn’t make much difference which of the two big companies you choose to produce and market your book.  You’ll do your own marketing, which I’ve always recommended. You’re going to hire your own editor, a layout designer, and a cover designer, just as “The Second Mouse Goes Digital” suggests. If you are good with software, you can purchase your own editing software like Grammarly and a layout program like Vellum. You can design your own cover, too, although I don’t recommend that plan unless you are already a talented graphic artist.
 
And here’s my bottom line.
·      In 2012, I published The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese. I used CreateSpace to design my cover, do the page layouts, and the editing. They charged me close to $3000.00.  
·      In 2017, I published The Second Mouse Goes Digital. I paid a cover designer around $250.00 and spent slightly more that $500.00 on software to do the layout and editing. That software expense, however, was a one-time outlay that will pay for itself as I use it for other publications.
·      In both cases, I used CreateSpace for book production and distribution at no cost to me other than for the books I purchase from them at cost to use for resale or give-aways. 
 
The two editions are virtually identical. If anything, the newer book has the edge in terms of interior design. Amazon and self-publishers both win!

 

GoodReads Begins Charging for Giveaways

In Chapter 12 of The Second Mouse Goes Digital, we discussed various promotional schemes offered by Amazon and others. I did not include Goodreads' Giveaways because I had never used them.  It now appears, however, that the Goodreads promotion is falling under the spell of Amazon's marketing schemes to the detriment of authors. Jill Swenson, president of the Swenson Book Development Company, explains why Giveaways are now a bad deal for independent authors.

On January 9, 2018, the social media site for readers, GoodReads.com, changed its policy regarding Giveaways. What used to be an inexpensive and clever marketing tool for books is now a new revenue stream for GoodReads, which is owned by Amazon. GoodReads, established in 2007, had more than 65 million members registered in 2017. Until Amazon purchased GoodReads in 2013, it was a rival to Amazon itself as the place for discovering books. Based on friends sharing their reviews and recommendations, the social media network was once considered a reliable independent source of book news and publishers shared their list of titles as a way to promote new releases with readers.

Things have changed. Amazon consolidated its power to determine which authors get exposure for their work. Amazon is monetizing the value of their platform for authors and publishers. Much like Facebook would like you to pay to promote your status updates on your Author Page, GoodReads intends to profit from authors.

In the past, GoodReads hosted contests for readers to sign-up to win a free copy of a new book in exchange for an early review. The publisher would list a title and GoodReads would promote the giveaway, help drive entries to interested readers, and randomly select winners. The publisher would be responsible for mailing print books to winners.

After Amazon purchased GoodReads the doors swung open to authors listing their books for Giveaways. Self-published or “indie” authors flooded the Giveaways. And instead of new releases, the Giveaways could be a title with any date. Going to the Giveaways page to look for free books was like digging through a bargain bin.

Sometimes the contest winners did post their honest reviews. Other times, these free books appeared for sale as new or gently used on Amazon. Despite their ability to discern which winners turned around to sell a book they obtained free from a GoodReads Giveaway, Amazon does not prohibit such sales.

The original intent of a Giveaway was to generate early reviews and help build book buzz to increase book sales. In recent years, the number of Giveaways from self-published authors has grown exponentially and the effectiveness of a Giveaway has diminished considerably.

The expense of books plus shipping and handling were not insignificant to authors and publishers for this marketing tool, but now GoodReads offers two packages. Their new standard package is priced at $119 per giveaway. Everyone who enters your giveaway automatically adds the book to their Want-to-read list and eight weeks after your giveaway ends, the winners receive an email from GoodReads reminding them to rate and review your book.

The premium package includes all the benefits of the standard package plus a premium placement on the Giveaway page for $599 per giveaway. With tens of millions of visitors each month, the premium package is intended to increase your title’s visibility. With hundreds of thousands of self-published titles flooding the site, it isn’t clear how many eyeballs your book cover will reach.

The packages rolled out January 9 and GoodReads offered introductory prices through January 31 of $59 for the standard package and $299 for the premium giveaway. The new pricing structure will mean far fewer giveaways for readers and close the door to this marketing tool for most authors and publishers. The return on your investment in this kind of advertising is negative.

The new rules for giveaways indicate up to 100 copies of print books can be listed for authors who are U.S. residents. In the past, most giveaways were for 5 or 10 copies. Today, if you go to the GoodReads Giveaway page you will discover thousands of contests listing 100 copies of Kindle versions of books no one has ever heard of and mostly self-published. Almost no traditional publishers have listed Giveaways since the change in policy was announced.

This leaves the GoodReads Giveaway program weakened by offering free books no one is interested in buying. The program now targets those authors who think the only way they can get readers to select their book is to give it away free.

Authors have limited budgets for advertising and marketing their books. GoodReads grossly overestimated the value of its Giveaway and we’ll likely see this program disappear in the coming year. Readers who get a free book under the new program will discover it is worth exactly what they paid for it: nothing.

The best advertising for a book comes from word-of-mouth recommendations and not from social media or reviews posted online. Write a book that satisfies readers and work with your publisher and publicist to effectively promote it. Don’t pay GoodReads to give it away free.

Hardbound Rip-Offs


Here’s this week’s update to The Second Mouse Goes Digital. In Chapter 9, “Choosing the Right Production Company,” I discussed the two most widely-used and trusted print-on-demand companies, Create Space and Lightning Source. I also announced the recent appearance of two additional resources:
 
“Two additional printing options have become available in the past year, and they may be viable alternatives. Both strike me as being hybrids—a crossover of the vast divide between print and electronic books. The new plans may indeed set the next standard for independent publications. They certainly fit into the pattern of consolidation that is happening in other industries. I can’t say a whole lot about these options because I’ve not tried either one, but I can tell you what the pundits are reporting and what the new companies say they offer.

“The first to break into the market was Ingram Spark. In case you’ve forgotten, Ingram is the largest book distributor in the country and the parent company of Lightning Source. Ingram Spark is the company’s solution to complaints that Lightning Source is too expensive and too complicated. It promises a cleaner, simpler interface, allowing authors to submit files similar to those Lightning Source accepts for digital editions. Since I’ve not tried this program, I can’t evaluate that promise.

“They do, however, offer certain advantages. The Spark plan will produce either paperback or hardbound copies, and there’s little difference in the costs between binding styles. That will be important to any author who hopes to place books in schools and libraries, which will usually purchase only hardbound books.”
 
Since my book came out, I have discovered that there are actually several new hybrid publishers who offer the same service—hard-cover format at prices that independent writers can afford. The question, of course is whether they can deliver on their promises.   
Recently, I had occasion to evaluate one of these new hardbound volumes from an unidentified publishing company and found it lacking in many respects. A hard-cover volume from a traditional publisher will have a stiff casing covered in cloth, with an additional cloth strip covering the spine and an inch or so of both the front and back covers. The title of the book is stamped onto the spine, often in metallic lettering or other forms of embossing. Then a paper book jacket protects the book. The front cover of the jacket will contain a well-thought-out cover design, with additional material on the back cover. The ample jacket flaps will provide a short synopsis, or perhaps a biographical sketch of the author.  Many variations exist, but all give an impression of high quality.

The hybrid book I examined was lacking in every respect. From the first touch, I realized that this “hardbound cover” had been done on a budget. It was paper, not cloth, and it reminded me of the kind of cheap textbooks I used in grade school. The colors were garish and inappropriate for the subject matter. The book’s black spine did not align with the printed illustration, so that there was a crooked line of color running down one edge of the spine. The corners of the paper cover were not glued completely over the cardboard backing, so that they soon worked loose, leaving sharp little folds that caught on my sleeve as I held the book. The binding itself was so tight that I had to fight to keep the book open, and the binding had failed to catch the first several pages. They threatened to fall out eventually.

The Second Mouse now encourages anyone considering using one of these hybrid presses to provide hardbound copies to proceed with caution. I would ask to see samples of their work before making a commitment. As in most other cases, you get only what you pay for.