Tag Archives: self-publishing

LepreCon 40 – My Schedule of Appearances

See you at LepreCon 40 if you can make it.  Here is my schedule (Michael Bradley) for the event:

My schedule for LepreCon 40:

Friday (Dealer room when not at panel)

1 pm Steampunk 101

2 pm The Singularity

Saturday (Dealer room when not at panel)

9 am Self Publishing 101

Noon – The Perils of Time Travel

Sunday (Dealer room when not at panel)

10 am Advanced Self Publishing

11 am Advanced Steampunk

Susannes Treasures will be open during all dealer hours, Friday Noon to 6 pm, Saturday 10 am to 7 pm, and Sunday 9 am to 3 pm.


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Tasha Harrison on self publishing: ‘I was sick of rejection’

Tasha Harrison on self publishing: ‘I was sick of rejection’

After trying to publish her work through traditional routes for 10 years, Tasha Harrison decided to take control and self-publish.

• Tasha Harrison was recommended by readers greenawayzoo and LS Young. Scroll down to recommend your own favourite self-published books

Tasha Harrison

‘Self-publishing has been liberating’… Tasha Harrison. Photograph: Tasha Harrison

Why did you choose to self-publish?

I first had interest from a literary agent back in 2001, after sending out a stack of manuscripts. It eventually came to nothing, but at the time I was over the moon just to have confirmation I could write. A year later, after another mass send-out, I found another literary agent who took me on but, unfortunately, she was unable to sell my book, Package Deal. After that disappointment, I told her I was thinking of self-publishing but she didn’t think it was a good idea, so we parted ways. This was 2004 – before the rise of ebooks and the birth of Facebook and Twitter. My husband, Chris, runs a graphic design agency so he helped me to design a cover for Package Deal and we printed a few hundred copies. He also set up a website for me to sell them through. I had no marketing plan but to my amazement several branches of Waterstones in East Sussex took it on, as well as a few independent bookshops. I also got a tiny bit of publicity although most of the press refuse to review self-published books. All in all, I probably sold around 150 copies – but most of those were to friends.

Despite making a loss, it wasn’t completely in vain. I sent off 50 of my new paperbacks and the first three chapters of my next novel, Hot Property, to another round of agents. Before long, I landed myself a new agent who was absolutely certain she could sell Hot Property. But after several drafts, she seemed less keen and told me to write something else, so I did, my third book – Pearls. When I submitted the manuscript, however, she turned it down and politely let me go. To say I was gutted was an understatement. I felt I’d reached the end of the road. It was then 2011. For 10 years, I’d been trying to find a way in, but it was “access denied” every time.

I put my books to one side for a year – I had enough to keep me busy working part-time as a copywriter and looking after two young children. Then Chris got wind of people self-publishing on Amazon and suggested I give it a go. As it would cost us nothing – Package Deal and Hot Property had already been edited and proofread, and Chris could sort out the covers – it was a no-brainer. I was sick of rejection and waiting for agents to get back to me while my books waited in slushpiles. That route clearly didn’t work and I’d wasted enough time trying it. It was time to try something else, so in early 2012, I self-published with Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

Tell us a bit about the books

Package Deal is a comedy about a group of British holidaymakers whose lives become entangled on the Greek island of Kefalonia. It’s told from several characters’ perspectives, including lone traveller Mia who has a more specific reason for going to Kefalonia than her neighbouring counterparts.

Hot Property is also a comedy, this time about a group of British expats who are all chasing the sun, sea and sand dream in Crete, but whose plans for an idyllic lifestyle come a cropper thanks to a handsome but devious property dealer.

My third novel, Pearls, is different. It’s set in England, and is about three women – a reformed alcoholic, a cleaner and a career-driven magazine designer – whose lives converge when they each try to follow or resist fate.

My first two books are beach reads – sort of EastEnders meets Shirley Valentine. My third is a little more serious than the previous two, although it still has a comic element. If I had to put all three books under one umbrella, I suppose it would be “feel-good fiction“. All three books are currently only available as ebooks.

What are the positives of self-publishing?

I’m in control – well, more than I was, at any rate. My books are selling and people are contacting me to say how much they’ve enjoyed reading them. I’ve waited a long time to have that satisfaction! I have instant access to my sales figures, can change my cover image, price and content whenever I want and work to my own deadlines. I’m not worrying too much about what genre I fall under, either. Overall, self-publishing has been liberating.

And the negatives?

Marketing. I’m building a readership from scratch, progress is slow and I’m learning on the job. I joined Twitter and set up a Facebook author page the same day I uploaded my first two books to Amazon – hardly a marketing plan. At first, I found it nerve-wracking interacting with other people on Twitter, asking for advice and feedback. However, I’ve met some lovely authors that way and have learned a lot from them. I’ve also met some lovely readers. Twitter is a great networking tool but it’s not a bookselling tool, although it can be useful when running a free promotion, which I’ve experimented with a few times. Overall, finding the time to market my books and write the next one is the biggest challenge – there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

How are you pricing your books?

When I first uploaded my books, I priced them at £2.99 each (allowing me 70% royalties). After a good start and a successful summer last year that surpassed my expectations, my sales plummeted overnight last September and trickled in over the winter. Suddenly, my future in self-publishing was looking a lot less rosy. I got a bit obsessed with what could possibly have caused such a sudden, dramatic drop in my sales. I came up with various theories – Amazon’s algorithms, the sudden expansion of Amazon into other countries, perhaps my books only have summer time appeal, etc – until, eventually, I realised there was nothing I could do about it. Reluctantly, I dropped the price to 99p, which reduced my royalties to 35%. My reasoning was that it was still early days and I wanted to encourage readers to take a chance on me. Sales have picked up considerably since then.

In my first year of self-publishing, I sold over 1,500 books. In the first half of this year I’ve sold 2,000. For someone who thought they’d be lucky to sell 100, that’s pretty good going!

Have you worked with an editor or designer on the novel?

I edited my first two novels under the guidance of the agents I had at the time, but with my third, Pearls, I was on my own. I sent it to my friend Jo Dearden – a fellow copywriter who I used to work with – and paid her to help me edit and proofread it. She made valid points, spotted inconsistencies and threw ideas on to the pitch. Then it was really hard to know when to follow her advice and when to stick to my guns. As for a designer, I’m very fortunate that my husband has designed all my covers – although I have to do all his proofreading in return!

Do you think this is important?

Professional proofreading and cover design is crucial. I think it’s best to view these services as an investment rather than a cost. When my local Waterstones took Package Deal on a few years back, they looked at the cover, read the blurb and said “yes”. I was astonished. I thought they’d take a few weeks to consider it. But that’s how we all buy books – the cover draws you in, so you read the blurb. If the blurb appeals, you buy the book. So those two elements are essential to get right.

As for proofreading, it’s not humanly possible to spot every one of your typos among 80,000 words – you need a few fresh pairs of eyes. Saying that, I’ve yet to read a traditionally published book without a single typo in it. With regards to editing, it’s important, but I think it’s more subjective. An editor can provide a lot of insightful advice, but you don’t have to follow it all if it doesn’t feel right.

Would you self-publish again?

Yes. I’m currently working on my fourth novel, Blown-Away Man, about an advertising executive who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after having a bombshell dropped on him at a school reunion. I’m also working on a collection of humorous children’s stories, called The Adventures of Fartina Gasratilova. Both books have samples on my blog and should be ready to publish by the end of the year.

A short passage from Pearls

You don’t remember the last time you slapped me, do you?’ said Katherine.

How Miriam wanted to wipe her 15-year-old daughter’s mocking expression from her face right there and then.

‘OK, I’ll tell you,’ Katherine sighed. ‘It was a few days ago when you accused me of not telling you that I’d be staying the night at Samantha’s. Only I did tell you. I’d even written you a note, just in case you forgot about it. Later I found my note and showed it to you and instead of apologising to me you slapped me. I said it was no wonder Julian was avoiding you, ‘cos who wants to spend all their time with a pisshead? You slapped me again, and that time, I slapped you back.’

Miriam had no recollection of any of this. She wouldn’t put it past her angry, rebellious daughter to make it all up just to get back at her.

‘You’re –’ She hesitated.

‘Lying?’ Katherine laughed. ‘Jesus, Mum. You really don’t remember a thing, do you? Weird … I wonder if this is what it’s like to live with someone with Alzheimer’s?’

Miriam exploded. ‘GET OUT!’

Katherine saluted her. ‘Adios, amigo.’ She opened the door and hopped out.

Miriam sped off, nearly colliding with another vehicle and bolting through a red light.

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Book Publishers Scramble to Rewrite Their Future

Book Publishers Scramble to Rewrite Their Future

  • 03.19.13
  • 6:30 AM


Illustration: Stephen Doyle 

While working in a bookstore in Boone, North Carolina, back in 2011, a 36-year-old college dropout named Hugh Howey started writing a series of sci-fi novellas called Wool. His stories were set in a postapocalyptic world where all human survivors live in an underground silo, a microsociety where resources are so scarce that one person has to die before another can be born. Howey had already published a book with a small press, but he wanted to retain creative control, and he didn’t want to go through the arduous process of finding an agent. So he decided to put out the new books himself, selling digital downloads and print editions through Amazon. In the first six months he sold 14,000 copies. Each new installment met with immediate enthusiasm. Within hours he’d receive emails from readers hungry for more.

By January of last year, agents were calling Howey, looking to publish the books through more established channels, but he was reluctant. At that point, the Wool series was already making him close to $12,000 a month. Nelson Literary Agency founder Kristin Nelson won Howey over when she admitted that she wasn’t sure traditional publishing could offer him anything better than what he was doing on his own. (When she recounted this remark at a recent industry conference, the publishing professionals in the audience shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.) By May, Wool was bringing in $130,000 a month, and Howey and Nelson had sold the film option to 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott. A couple of publishers made seven-figure offers for the rights to sell the book in hardcover, paperback, and ebook, but Howey and Nelson turned them down. He’d make that much in a year of digital sales alone.

Then Simon & Schuster’s president sent Nelson an email that opened the door to a six-figure deal for print rights only. It was an extraordinary concession—the publisher would agree to put its full marketing muscle behind Wool despite having to forgo the ebook revenue stream that has generated the bulk of the series’s earnings. It’s often said in publishing that with a blockbuster book, everybody wins. But with Wool, it’s Hugh Howey who has won biggest.

After centuries in which books and the process of publishing them barely changed, the digital revolution has thrown the entire business up for grabs. It’s a transformation that began with the rise of Amazon as an online bookseller and accelerated with the resulting decline of the physical bookstore. But with the shift to ebooks—which now represent upwards of 20 percent of big publishers’ revenue, up from 1 percent in 2008—every aspect of the existing framework is now open to debate: how much books will cost, how long they’ll be, whether they’ll be edited, who will publish them, and whether authors will continue to be paid in advance to write them. It’s a future that Amazon doesn’t control and one where traditional publishers might eventually thrive, not just survive. The only certainty is that the venerable book business, a settled landscape for so long, is now open territory for anyone to claim.

Of all the worries in the publishing world these days, the king of them is cultural irrelevance. “The fact is that people don’t read anymore,” Steve Jobs told a reporter in 2008, blurting out the secret fear of bookish people everywhere. But consider this: In one week, people who don’t read anymore bought about half a million copies of a really long book called Steve Jobs. In the past year, Vintage has sold one book from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy for every six American adults. The Big Six publishers—Random House, Penguin, Hachette, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins—all make money, and at profit margins that are likely better than they were 50 years ago.

Meanwhile, readers have an unprecedented array of options. E-readers have gotten consistently cheaper and better since the first Kindle shipped in 2007, giving customers instant access to millions of titles. For a couple of dollars you can buy a self-published sensation or a Kindle Single rather than a full-length book. Add it all together and you have a more vibrant market for literary material than ever before, with nearly 3 billion copies sold every year. Amazon likes to point out that new Kindle buyers go on to purchase almost five times as many books from Amazon, print and digital, in the ensuing year as they did in the prior one. “I believe we’ll look back in five years,” says Russ Grandinetti, VP of Kindle content for Amazon, “and realize that digital was one of the great expansions of the publishing business.”

For all the digital optimism, not even Amazon is ready to declare the traditional model dead. In May 2011 the company announced that it was going head-to-head with the Big Six by launching a general-interest imprint in Manhattan, headed by respected industry veteran Larry Kirshbaum. It signed up celebrity authors, paying a reported $850,000 for a memoir by Laverne & Shirley star Penny Marshall and winning over best-selling self-help author Timothy Ferriss. Tired of being undersold by Amazon and wary of its encroachment into their business, many brick-and-mortar booksellers refused to stock the titles. The boycott has worked so far: Marshall’s book flopped, and Ferriss’ undersold his previous offering. Ferriss says he doesn’t regret his experiment with Amazon Publishing, but he allows, “I could have made more money—certainly up to this point—by staying with Random House.”

Still, it’s not clear that traditional publishers are well positioned to own the digital future. They are saddled with the costs of getting dead trees to customers—paper, printing, binding, warehousing, and shipping—and they cannot simply jettison those costs, because that system accounts for roughly 80 percent of their business. Ebooks continue to gain ground, but the healthiness of the profit margins is unclear. J. K. Rowling’s latest book helps illustrate this bind. At a rumored advance of $7 million, Little, Brown essentially backed up an armored car to Rowling’s house to pay her before seeing a nickel in revenue. The publisher then paid highly trained people to improve the novel and well-connected people to publicize and market it until it was inescapable. Little, Brown’s landlord in Manhattan occasionally asks for rent too. If a reader can buy the Kindle edition for $8.99, the public might eventually find it absurd to pay $19.99 for a printed version, let alone the $35 that Little, Brown wants for the hardcover.

What’s more, awarding huge contracts for books that may not even be written yet creates tremendous risk. The industry is plagued by what indie-publishing entrepreneur Richard Nash has called the “pathology of unearned advances.” An author who gets a book deal is paid an advance against royalties, and if the royalties end up exceeding the advance, the author starts getting more checks. But that doesn’t usually happen.

The uncertainty about a book’s potential value cuts both ways. Daniel Menaker, former executive editor in chief of Random House, told me what happened when a fellow editor there presented a case to his colleagues for making an offer on Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit: “People just laughed, and someone said, ‘Talk about beating a dead horse.’ ”  Good one! The editor, Jonathan Karp, luckily won the argument, and Random House bought the rights for only five figures. More than 2 million copies were in print even before the movie came out. Unfortunately, the more common scenario is that a publisher opens the vault for a book that tanks. Bantam paid a reported $2 million in 2005 for two novels from a sci-fi writer named Gordon Dahlquist. If the title The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters doesn’t sound familiar, you’re not alone.

The disappearance of the physical bookstore would endanger the entire book business—even Amazon.

The publishing houses stay afloat only because the megahits pay for the flops, and there’s generally enough left over for profit. Predicting the success or failure of any given book is impossible. Menaker recalls Jason Epstein, who led Random House for four decades, telling him, “Make no mistake—this is gambling.” Which is why the pricing pressure on ebooks is so scary to publishers: If they are the gambler at the slot machines, placing scores of bets and relying on the winnings to trump the losses, Amazon represents a casino that offers smaller and smaller payouts.

Beyond the immediate concern over prices, publishers also worry that the disappearance of the physical bookstore could endanger the entire book business, even (ironically) Amazon. Research has shown that readers don’t tend to use online bookstores to discover books; they use them to purchase titles they find out about elsewhere—frequently at physical stores. (If you want to see a bookstore owner get angry, mention Amazon’s Price Check app, which allows customers to scan an item in a physical store and buy it for less from Amazon then and there.) With no stores to browse in, publishers fear, book sales everywhere could take a significant hit.

This is one reason that, in 2010, five of the Big Six publishers worked with Apple to institute a new model to keep other retailers competitive with Amazon. In an attempt to win customers, Amazon had been routinely selling ebooks at a loss, paying, say, $12 to $15 wholesale for a popular ebook and then selling it for $9.99. Under the new so-called agency model, the publisher would have the power to set the price everywhere—between $12.99 and $14.99 for most best sellers—but the retailer would take 30 percent. That is, the publishers agreed to a scheme in which Amazon would make significantly more per book and they would make less. They were playing the long game, trying to protect physical stores and print sales and chip away at Amazon’s overwhelming ebook market share.

After fighting the plan, Amazon caved. But the Department of Justice sued the five publishers and Apple for collusion, and Amazon described one of the resulting settlements as “a big win for Kindle owners.” The recently announced merger of the two biggest of the Big Six, Random House and Penguin, is widely seen as a move to build an entity that can stand up to Amazon’s market power.

In the long term, what publishers have to fear the most may not be Amazon but an idea it has helped engender—that the only truly necessary players in the game are the author and the reader. “I was at a meeting God knows how many years ago at MIT,” former Random House chief Epstein says, “and someone used the word disintermediation. When I deconstructed that, I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the end of the publishing business.’ ”  At a time when a writer can post a novel online and watch the revenue pour in by direct deposit, the publishing industry’s skill at making books, selling them by hand to bookstores, and managing the distribution of the product threatens to become irrelevant. In Epstein’s vision, the writer may need a freelance editor, a publicist, and an agent who functions as a kind of business manager, but authors will keep a bigger share of the proceeds with no lumbering media corporation standing in the way.

So far this phenomenon has largely been limited to previously unknown writers like Hugh Howey. Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old Minnesotan who worked days at an assisted-living facility, grossed about $2 million on ebooks in a little over a year with her paranormal romances and zombie novels for young adults. John Locke, a self-published crime writer, had already beaten Hocking to the 1-million-ebook mark on Amazon. And then, of course, there is E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, which began as self-published Twilight fan fiction but wound up making 2012 so bountiful for Random House that it gave a $5,000 bonus to each employee.

But these are the exceptions. In general, new writers gain much more than they lose by signing with a major house. Most self-published authors have trouble selling a copy outside of their immediate family. Even if they have talent, they lack professional help or the imprimatur of quality that a publisher can bring. Indeed, Fifty Shades, which some have taken to be the definitive evidence in favor of self-publishing, is more accurately a demonstration of the opposite: The book became a massive commercial success only after Random House got involved, placing giant stacks of paperbacks in bookstores everywhere and buying huge ads in the London Underground.

The real danger to publishers is that big-ticket authors, who relied on the old system to build their careers, will abandon them now that they have established an audience. As Howey says, “When that happens, all bets are off.” The John Grishams of the world already manage to extract excellent deals in the traditional way because of their huge and reliable sales, and few writers relish the work of being their own publisher. But as that work grows easier—as complex print distribution loses ground to low-cost digital delivery—the big names are starting to get tempted. Stephen King has been experimenting with bypassing his publisher, releasing his latest essay as a Kindle Single directly (albeit with some editing and promotion) through the Amazon store. The popular suspense writer Barry Eisler turned down a $500,000 book contract with the intention to self-publish—but before he could do so, Amazon Publishing offered him a sweetheart deal.

Pretty soon one of these famous writers will step up to the cliff and actually jump. Maybe it will be Tim Ferriss. His less-than-stellar results with Amazon might push him back to a traditional publisher—or in another direction entirely. A great deal of money hinges on what he and his fellow best-selling authors decide to do next. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I self-published in the next few years,” Ferriss says. “Wouldn’t remotely surprise me.”

Evan Hughes (@evanhughes) is the author of Literary Brooklyn.


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