Posts Tagged ‘smashwords’

I Just Published an E-book, and It Was Pretty Easy

October 12, 2012

Recently we did a blog interview with author Mary Mackey talking about how her agent  republished  all of  Mary’s  out-of-print  novels as e-books. A lot of agencies are doing this now.  Some of them manage thousands of titles, and they are bringing them back in print, usually at very attractive prices. That’s good news for readers.

I decided to do the same thing with my clients’ books. I’d like to describe the steps that I took to get  an out-of-print  book converted and published. It was really quite easy.

The book  I worked on was  Face-Time by Erik Tarloff.  He is a client of mine. I first read Face-Time when it was published in 2000. I loved it then and I still do.  The story is about a presidential speech writer  in Washington who learns that his girlfriend is  having an affair with the President.  Erik’s voice comes through loud and clear. It is very funny and very smart. It  moves effortlessly between high culture and low farce.

Erik had some pretty good inside knowledge that gave this book a lot of verisimilitude.  Erik’s wife is Laura D’Andrea Tyson who was Chair of both  The Council of Economic Advisers and later The National Economic Council under Clinton, both cabinet level positions. Erik, himself, wrote speeches for the President.  Erik is also quick to point out that this book is in no way  a roman a clef.

 

 You can download either the Kindle Edition or the EBUB edition that can be read on all non-Kindle readers. The price is $2.99 (as Mad Magazine would say — cheap!)

So let’s talk about how I got this book published.

First, a word about e-book formats. There are two major digital formats for e-books. The first and most popular is the Kindle Format. It is proprietary and controlled by Amazon. com. Books in the Kindle format  can only be read on Kindle readers (or a Kindle App from the i-Tunes Store)  and only purchased at Amazon. Right now about 65% of all e-book sales are for Kindle Editions. The other major format is Adobe EPUB, an open source format. Most other major e-book retail venues and platforms (i-Pad, Nook, Kobo, Sony, Android) use the  EPUB format. This means that if you are going to make your book available, you will need to go through the conversion process twice, once for each format.

Ok. Let’s go through this step-by-step.

1) Create a word file.  If  Erik already  had a .doc file of the text, I could have gotten it up in a few hours. But he didn’t. So the first thing I had to do was to send the  physical book to an optical character recognition (OCR) service that  scans the book and converts the text to a digital file.  I chose Blue Leaf Scanning , a widely used service for this job. The price  is based on the number of pages in the book. Face-Time had about 250 pages and the price was $26.95. I sent them a copy of the book. And two weeks later they emailed me back a word file and a .pdf of the text.

2)Review and Re-edit. The good news about optical character recognition scanning is that it is at least 99% accurate. The bad news is that it is  only 99% accurate.  What that means is that on any page of the scanned book, there are likely to be about 35 incorrect letters and consequently 35 misspelled words. Re-editing is essential and is the most tedious part of the process.  So I turned it over to Erik.

3)Designing a cover. This is important for marketing. You really need one of those postage stamp size covers so that the book looks professionally published. I referred Erik to my friend and fellow-agent, Natanya Wheeler. She is an agent  at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency and she’s  great.  She also manages their large list of re-published e-book titles and knows how to create a properly designed and formatted book cover. She agreed to design the cover  for us.  She  charged Erik about  $100 and produced a gorgeous cover in the form of a .jpg file.

4) Formatting for Kindle Editions.  Amazon has made it pretty easy to get your book into the Kindle Store. Their program is called Kindle Direct. Publishing through Kindle Direct is free. Amazon will take a percentage of all sales.  Go to the link  and register. Then read the simple step-by-step instructions  for formatting and publishing.   It will lead you through a few formatting requirements, all of which  can be done using Microsoft Word. These  include: paragraph formatting, line spacing, preparing a title and copyright page, table of contents,  and adding addition materials like author bios and blurbs.  Then they show you how to convert your word file to a html file using your own MS Word program.

5) Enter title and product details.  After you have formatted the book on your computer, you need to go back to the Kindle Direct Page and enter   author and title information along with some descriptive catalogue copy and some other copyright details.  You will also have to confirm that you control the rights to the book and are not infringing on anyone else’s copyright.  (If you try to publish a digital edition of Twilight to help get you through the economic downturn, you might run into trouble.)

5)  Upload and Convert. The next step is to take your html file  still on your computer and upload it using Amazon’s simple instructions.  You will also upload the jpg of your cover art.  Doing this is a lot like uploading photographs on Facebook. You can then preview your book on a viewer on the Kindle Direct page  that will make the text look identical to what you will see  on the Kindle Reader. If there are  formatting problems or other errors, you can correct them at this point.

6) Pricing.  Amazon then directs you to a pricing page where you can determine how you want the book priced. It’s your choice. You can give it away for free or price it at $1000 and see if anyone buys it. (They won’t). I priced Face-Time at $2.99. I see a lot of books on sale at that price point. It’s low enough to avoid issues of price resistance. Typically the amount that Erik will receive on each sale is going to be 70% of the price.

7) Publishing. Hit the button and you are now a published author. It will probably take 12 hours before your book will have its own page on Amazon.

9) Formatting and Publishing in the EPUB format using Smashwords.com. A lot of authors and agents are going to Smashwords.com to publish on platforms other than Kindle. The nice thing about Smashwords is that you only have to format and upload once  and they will make sure that the book is available for sale at all the other important venues (Apple, Sony, Nook, Kobo, Android).  I won’t go into all the details of publishing on Smashwords. The process is very similar to the steps used for Kindle. Like Kindle, you need to set up an account with Smashwords.  Then follow the step-by-step instructions for formatting your  .doc file.  If you have the edited word file that you used for Kindle, you will need to make a few formatting changes. But you should be able to upload it to Smashwords in about an hour.  And as with Kindle, publishing on Smashwords is free and the royalties are 70-80%

10) Wait for the big bucks to start rolling in. Both Amazon and Smashwords have very user friendly systems for sales reporting and payment of royalties. You can check these out on their websites.

The hardest part of all of this is the writing. And if you look at most of the self-published books that are available, the quality is (how shall I say this politely?) spotty.  But if you have a manuscript,  regardless of the quality, it’s easy, cheap and fast to get it published. Of course no one’s going to read it if they don’t know it exists. And you probably aren’t going to get review attention for a self-published book, and you aren’t going to get an e-book into the bookstores. Since you’re the publisher, it’s your job to do the marketing. Good luck.

The Indie Publishing Option

March 23, 2011

Laurie McLean is a literary agent specializing in genre fiction and  middle-grade/young-adult children’s books. She has really become a guru on this subject and is the agent I always turn to when I need to know the ever-changing fads and fashions of fantasy, science fiction, supernatural fiction and young adult fiction. A few months ago we had a great interview with her about the subject on “Ask the Agent.”  If you want to know whether the vampire train left the station, ask Laurie. 

Laurie has been a literary agent for 6 years and works at the Larsen Pomada Agency in San Francisco.  She has a fantastic blog, Agent Savant,   which is a good place to start learning about genre fiction.

Laurie has started a new consulting business separate from her agency called Agent Savant Inc. She specializes in creating custom digital marketing plans for eBook authors, authors with significant back lists of titles who want to get their rights reverted and sell them as eBooks and POD books, and midlist authors who want to know how they can market their books more effectively online.

Today the publishing landscape is changing almost weekly. Commercial publishers are struggling to redefine themselves in the new digital marketplace. And new venues seem to be sprouting up almost daily that give writers alternatives to traditional publishing. Today I want to talk about what these transformations mean to writers. Both the challenges and the opportunities.

 Andy: First of all, Laurie, congratulations on your New York Times best seller. Tell us a little about it.

 Laurie: My client, Julie Kagawa, writes amazing young adult fantasy. Her Iron Fey YA series, with The Iron King, The Iron Daughter and The Iron Queen out now and The Iron Knight coming out in the fall, has really resonated with today’s teens. She put her own spin on the traditional mythology of Oberon, Mab and the summer and winter fairy courts by adding a new dimension—The Iron Fey. They are cobbled together out of what kids truly believe is magic today: technology.  The Iron Queen is the book that landed Julie on the NYT bestseller list a mere year after her debut, and we just sold three more books in this series plus three more in a new post-apocalyptic series.

 Andy: It seems to me that there is an awful lot of good writing being done today and most of it is having a hard time getting published in traditional channels. That’s true isn’t it?

Laurie: That’s one of the reasons I am so bullish on digital publishing and eBook publishing. A writer commented during a writers conference workshop I was giving several years ago that the worst part of my job must be reading so much bad writing, and I replied, “No. The worst part of my job is reading good or very good writing and knowing that I was going to have to reject it because it either wasn’t marketable at that point in time or because it wasn’t perfect.”  The bar has been placed so high for writers,  it’s made it nearly impossible for even the strong writers to break in. You must be good at every facet of writing and marketing and know the publishing business inside and out to even have a chance at the brass ring. But now opportunities have opened up with eBook and POD (print on demand) indie or self publishing, and the successes of some of the early adopters have destroyed that notion of who is a published author and how you can make a living as a writer. You can publish your book on Kindle Direct Publishing,  Smashwords,  or Barnes and Noble PubIt! sites and, voila, you are now a published author. Does that mean you don’t have to put in the hard work of always improving your craft and marketing your books? Hell, no. Cream will always rise to the top. You still have to learn and grow and pay attention and be diligent.

Andy: I know this changes every week, but can you go over the kinds of options available if you can write great books and still can’t find a publisher?  Tell us the pros and cons of each.  (POD, ebooks, smashwords, etc.)

Laurie: Boy, I could blog about this for weeks on end, Andy. So instead I will challenge your readers to discover how easy it is to post an eBook themselves. And I’m not doing this to be mean. Part of do-it-yourself publishing means you have to roll up your sleeves and actually do it! No agents or editors or cover designers or sales force will be there to hold your hand and make it happen. Give one more polishing edit to that  work in progress –or to an old manuscript, novella, short story or article that has been sitting in a digital drawer on your computer–and at the very least go to Kindle Direct Publishing  and then Smashwords  and see how simple and straightforward it is to take your MS Word document, cobble together a cover from clip art or the like,  and publish that book. Oh, and did I forget to mention that  IT IS FREE TO DO THIS? Well, it is. Price your book anywhere you like it or give it away for free to generate some buzz. Then dive into social media (Twitter, blogging, Facebook, etc.) to let the world know you’re out there. If readers request a print copy of your book, go to Lulu.com, CreateSpace, Author Solutions or directly to a printer and make POD available. Some options will give you a number of books in return for a price and then you keep 100% of the sales dollars, like in the old days of vanity publishing, but newer options like Lulu cost you nothing up front and you collect a small royalty on each book you sell and they ship.

 Andy: So it is pretty cheap and easy to get your book published either in print on paper or in e-book format. But the real challenge is how do you get the word out. Can you give some advice to the reader on marketing your books?

Laurie: Here’s a link to my blog post  that presents a digital marketing plan writers can use as a starting point. I spent 20+ years in high tech marketing and publicity before I became an agent, so this has a lot of knowledge behind it.

Andy: Internet gurus used to use the term “disintermediation” to describe the new world of Internet commerce. What they meant was that the Internet would eliminate the middleman and allow consumers to buy direct from the producers at a reduced cost. It hasn’t exactly come out that way. In our business Amazon.com is a classic middleman. A typical retailer, really. But with the explosion of self-publishing, disintermediation seems to be a real possibility, no?

Laurie: That’s the billion-dollar question, Andy. How will this incredibly disruptive technology change the publishing industry? No one knows the answer, even though many offer their guesses daily. My informed opinion is that indie publishing will progress along the same lines as indie movies and indie music. You’ll have some overnight indie sensations that either thrive (for example American Idol megastars Carrie Underwood or Jennifer Hudson) or fizzle (can anyone remember AI runner ups?). For every  self published Amanda Hocking superstar (and if you don’t know who she is, please find out), you will have hundreds of eBook authors making a decent wage and doing what they love without the baggage of being a household name. Yet, like Carrie Underwood, 26-year-old Minnesotan Amanda Hocking now has an agent who is about to sell her next series to a traditional publisher for seven figures.

Andy: Laurie, if Amanda Hocking is doing so well self publishing, why on earth should she bother to sign a contract with a commercial publisher. I bet she is getting better royalties on her own.

 

Laurie: Why? Because Amanda would rather spend her days writing than tweeting, giving media interviews, working with cover artists and editors, and negotiating with foreign publishers. There is so much work that must be attended to if you want to become successful in publishing—whether indie or traditional. And so when fame finds them, I predict indie authors will eventually straddle the line. They may continue to self-publish work that the traditional publishers don’t think will sell (short fiction, non-fiction, blogged books of advice, experimental writing, co-authored work, etc.), but their bread and butter mainstream books will come out in digital and print from established multi-national conglomerates. That’s why this chaotic stew is driving publishers insane. It’s impossible to predict the outcome of any decision. Everyone’s experimenting from authors to agents to publishers. I think your concept of  “disintermediation” is really a fancy word for do-it-yourself. And some DIY projects look homemade, while others look crafted. It all depends on skill level and attention to detail.

Andy: Other than Amanda Hocking, are people really making money doing this kind of self-publishing?

Laurie: Some are, some are not.  Self-publishing juggernaut Author Solutions estimated that the average number of books sold by their customers last year was 150. That’s not a lot. It’s not going to make you rich. But one of my new clients, Kait Nolan, sold 1,000 copies of an e-novella herself in January at 99 cents each. And she’s sold more copies of her three short stories in the first three months of 2011 than she did in all of 2010. So her momentum is growing to the point where I found her because of her awesome social media presence last month and offered her representation before she had even written one query letter to an agent or editor! The point is that some indie authors who really work at it are making money. Some are not. Which one will you be?

Andy: You have set up a separate business recently to help people navigate the new landscape. Can you describe what you do?

Laurie: Anyone interested in Agent Savant Inc. should  check it out. For a flat fee I help authors discover their unique author brand; I help them publish their writing online as an eBook; and then I create a customized digital marketing plan to help them sell their eBooks and POD books more effectively. I don’t do the work for them. I create the plan and get them started. Sometimes all it takes is a push with some direction behind it to take off.

Andy: Thanks, Laurie. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have to go make a phone call to Amanda Hocking to see if she needs a new agent. I think I’ll tell her that I can get her an 8 figure deal!


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