Tag Archives: Publishing

Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon

The cat is out of the bag, finally we know exactly how many self-published authors make it big: 40.

Yes, that’s not a typo.

40 self-published authors “make money”, all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don’t. This interesting statistic, recently revealed in a New York Times article, applies to the Kindle Store, but since Amazon is in fact the largest digital publishing platform in the world, it is a safe bet that self-published authors are not doing much better anywhere else.

“Making money” here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years. Yes, 40 authors have managed that, and have even gone on to establishing their own publishing house, like Meredith Wild. Her story is fully reported in the New York Times, here, and well worth pondering over. And wondering what “making money” really means.

That story reveals some further nuggets about the current fluctuating state of the publishing industry: it seems that last year, a third of the 100 best-selling Kindle books were self-published titles on average each week. Conversely, that means legacy publishers only raked in two-thirds. Perhaps this is not such a surprising result, given their habit of pricing e-books at stratospheric levels, from $12 to $16 or more compared to self-published authors who deem that $3 to $5 is the “right” price…One has to wonder why publishers do this, even at times pricing e-books more than their own printed versions of the title. Perhaps they are afraid of digital?

The digital market is indeed scary, primarily because of its dimension: over 4 million titles today in the Kindle Store, compared with 600,000 six years ago (again, the data is from the same article). This means “book discovery” has become the number one problem. How can your book stand out in such a vast crowd?

There are many answers in the industry (and savvy marketing certainly has big role), but some of the more ground-breaking solutions come from the successful self-published authors themselves, like Meredith Wild and a few others that have (more or less) followed her example, like Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, H.M.Ward, C.J.Lyons. They have struck deals with Ingram Content Group, a major book printer and distributor, thus getting their novels in bookstores, big-box stores and airports. Because,let’s face it, when you’re selling big in the digital market, you don’t want to lose out in the printed one: 36% of book buyers still read only print books (according to a 2015 Codex Group survey – for more about how print books hold their own, see this article).

What does this mean in terms of the future of the industry?  According to David Montgomery of Publishing Technology:

“There isn’t one book market anymore: there are two, and they exist in parallel. One continues to be dominated by major publishers, and increasingly uses agency pricing as a strategy to support print book sales. The second publishing market is almost exclusively made up of e-books, and is driven by Amazon-published and KDP content sold at a substantial discount to the product produced by traditional publishers.”

And he foresees a growing divide in 2016 between the two markets. Yet the success of Meredith Wild and the other authors like her suggests that something else might be happening: self-publishing could be encroaching in a territory that used to be seen as exclusive to legacy publishers.

Time to celebrate? Not yet. There is a caveat and it’s a big one: only 40 such authors are likely to bridge the divide. In fact, writing is a poor man’s occupation. As Publisher’s Weekly noted in an article published last year: the majority of authors earn below the poverty line. The statistics are grim:

Given that a single person earning less than $11,670 annually sits below the poverty line, 56% of respondents would qualify, if they relied solely on income from their writing. The survey also indicated that not only are many authors earning little, they are, since 2009, also earning less. Overall, the median writing-related income among respondents dropped from $10,500 in 2009 to $8,000 2014 in 2014, a decline of 24%. (highlight added).

That’s way below the poverty line! Small wonder that most authors depend on another job to survive…

So if you’re not selling your books, take heart, you’re not the only one. If you’re considering becoming a writer, think twice, it won’t make you rich. To be honest, if I could do my life over, I wouldn’t go into writing (though I love story-telling), I’d go into…film making! That is the art of the future, people don’t read books, they go to the movies, they binge on TV series, they play video-games. And in all these – movies, TV, games –  good story-tellers are more needed than ever

No, the art of writing is not dead, it is just undergoing a change of venue!


NOTE: This was published over a year ago and has garnered more comments than any of my blog posts has ever done before and I warmly thank my commentators including those who didn’t agree with my reading of the data – no doubt this avalanche of comments is a testimony to the (high) number of writers (self-published and non) wondering where they stand and what they can expect from a writing career. Bottom line: if you enjoy writing, just do it and don’t worry whether it’s going to bring in the bacon or not. One thing is will do for sure: it will make you happy. And that’s worth far more than any money you might ever make…Happy writing!




Filed under Publishing, Uncategorized

2016: The Year of the Writer?

There are signs that after the dramatic 2009 digital disruption that brought in the self-publishing tsunami, the publishing industry is stabilizing. And Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a best-selling author and dispenser of cool, much sought-after advice has even decreed on her blog in a year-end post, that 2016, is going to be “The Year of the Writer”.

Kristine Kathryn Rush’s blog, click here

Hooray! Or is it too early to celebrate? KK Rusch notes that in 2015 a lot of indie writers suffered from burnout (disclosure: my case too). But she has words of wisdom to soothe the pain:

If you’re destined to be a career writer, you’ll come back to it—or rather, it’ll come back to you. One day, a story will pop into your head, a story that needs to be told. I just got an e-mail from a long-time published writer who said that very thing. For the longest time, he thought he was done writing, and now he’s turning his attention to a new novel.

So nice to hear I’m not the only one (and yes, now too I’m turning my attention to a new novel).

So why this high rate of burnout in 2015? Simple: because of marketing pressures:

  1. You have to market your book in every possible way, Twitter, Facebook, book tours, Goodreads, you name it – exhausting;
  2. You have to write your next book in the series – yes, it’s a series of course, the best way to keep your readers glued to your books – and you have to do it as fast as you can, you’ve heard that best-selling authors come out with a new book every three months (yikes, how do they manage that?) – even more exhausting, especially if coupled with (1) above.
No surprise then that authors collapse.
But as KK Rush says, why do it? The solution to burnout is simple: write what you want. And, as she notes:

It does take courage to write what you want. To follow your own creativity and see where it will lead you. To walk down a path that doesn’t exist yet.So maybe I should modify my conclusion and call 2016 the Year of the Courageous WriterBecause we’ll be seeing a lot of courage in print this year.

Ready to be courageous? Ready to do your own thing?

Well, maybe not quite yet. Also, there are many ways to deal with burnout. For example, you could step sideways – move into non-fiction. That’s what I did: since 2014, I’ve moved into a lot of non-fiction writing (mostly articles about the United Nations) and working as Senior Editor for Impakter – and it’s been a wonderful experience, I’ve come across a lot of new, hugely talented young writers contributing exciting articles to Impakter.

Impakter – The United Nations section, click here to see.

Meanwhile the number of readers on Impakter has grown exponentially, to the extent that it has become a lead magazine for Millennials, even exceeding the New Yorker…That has made my experience with burnout as a fiction writer a lot easier to bear!

But KK Rush does not stop there in her predictions. She has just published a fascinating analysis of what went wrong: “Business Musings: The Reactive Business Model“. What she is arguing is that traditional publishers, starting in the 1970’s, have been “reacting” to surprise best-sellers by imitating them.

In order to survive commercially, they’ve churned out as fast as they could books that are as close as possible to the surprise best seller. And now, indie writers have fallen in the same trap, writing in the genre that supposedly “sells”, following as closely as they can the example set by best-selling authors. And you get a slew of would-be Hunger Games, slavishly applying what KK Rusch calls the “reactive business model”. And she predicts:

More and more indie writers will leave the business if their business plan is based on the Reactive Business Model.Traditional publishers have forgotten that they used to partner with writers. Writers created the material and publishers published it to the best of their abilities. Because traditional publishers are owned by large corporate entities, the pursuit of profit has become the mantra, and if an imprint isn’t profitable in the short term (five years or so), it gets absorbed, replaced, or dissolved.
Indie writers don’t have to follow that model—and shouldn’t. They need to go back to the old model.

And of course, the “old model” – the reason writers abandoned traditional publishing and went down the road of self-publishing in the first place –  is exactly that:

Write what you want to write. Don’t think about marketing until the project—whatever it is—is done. Then consider how to market the project. Be creative in the marketing too. Don’t just imitate what was done before.

Wise words, no doubt about it. And when writing your next book, she warns:

 “Don’t act like traditional publishers and manipulate your next book to be like someone else’s success. […] Move forward in your career. Don’t look back. Following the Reactive Business Model is by definition looking backwards.

Definitely good advice.

I would only add: don’t worry about marketing at all.

I know, this may sound counter-intuitive in a time when book discovery has become incredibly difficult given the large number of available titles – more than 4 million in the Kindle store alone.

The theory that the “cream rises to the top” and that the best books will be inevitably discovered has proved wrong time and again. A book, to be properly launched, needs strong marketing. A push. And of course, be ready to do it when the time comes but don’t overdo it, and especially not at the expense of your writing time.

You can always do some more book promotion later, if and as needed. It may take longer for you to be recognized, but at least in this digital age, indie writers have an advantage over traditionally published authors of the past: their books don’t disappear from book stores after three months, digital versions stay in the cloud forever, they have a so-called “long tail” that is (eventually) working for them.

This simple technical fact ensures that your books remain available on Amazon and other platforms as long as you, the author, don’t retire them.

So hang on in there!

And Happy 2016!


Filed under book marketing, genre fiction, Publishing, Uncategorized

Tom Chalmers, Founder of a Publishing Ecosystem – Interview

Another interview I did under my real name for Impakter magazine. Here it is:


on 5 December, 2014

In less than ten years, starting when he was 25, he built a whole publishing eco-system ranging from fiction and non-fiction to licensing rights

Tom Chalmers is young, perhaps the youngest UK publisher in a generation. In 2005, he was just 25 when he started Legend Press, a fiction publishing house. This was soon followed by a series of publishing companies, one for business (Legend Business), one for non-fiction (Paperbooks Publishing), one for self-publishing (New Generation Publishing) and one for writer events (Write-Connections) – all of them brought together in 2011 in the Legend Times Group while a licensing platform (IPR License) created in 2012, remains completely separate.
All these endeavors run the whole gamut of publishing and cover both traditional publishing sectors and the more technologically advanced digital areas like e-books and self-publishing. IPR License that uses the Internet to reach out to clients is perhaps the most original, and certainly, in terms of travel for the staff, the most demanding.

Mr. Chalmers is a very private individual, when I asked him for a personal picture as Impakter does not use promotional pictures, he said he didn’t have any personal pics to hand and suggested to use the one where he is speaking in China. He is the kind of person who goes at it alone, doing everything pretty much on his own.

Tom speaking pic
In short, a cool, collected and determined entrepreneur. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Impakter and here are highlights of a long and fruitful interview.

To read the interview, click here.

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Filed under genre fiction, interviews, Literature, writers rights

Why a Best Selling Author Turns to Crowdfunding

I interviewed indie author Marsha Roberts for Impakter to find out why she is turning to crowdfunding for her book, “Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer“, a highly acclaimed inspirational memoir that has sold very well so far, many thousands of copies. Here’s the article:



Marsha Roberts, a “Mutinous Baby Boomer”, Turns to Crowdfunding

on 17 November, 2014 at 07:00

Memoirs are all the rage lately, as one Norwegian writer famously proved by reporting minutely on his daily life including his breakfast (no need to refer to him by name here), and Marsha Roberts’ Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer recounting major events in her life, has turned out to be one of the most popular self-published books with the Boomer generation. And it’s also a big deal with other generations, including younger people, basically with  all those curious about life and its challenges. It has been acclaimed by customers on Amazon that showered it with 5-star reviews (38 to date, a strikingly high number), the prestigious Kirkus Review has praised it as “an optimistic look at the magic of life”, and the book was an instant success in the Goodreads group I created to discuss Boomer Lit. People have said “I’ve enjoyed this so much that I read it twice”, a rare occurrence.

I wondered why Marsha would use Indiegogo for an already published book, and a successful one at that, and she kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Your book is so popular, why did you go to Indiegogo, what obstacles are you facing and that you hope to remove with funding?

First off, Claude, thank you so much for having me here and for supporting my IndieGoGo campaign. I really appreciate it. As far as what obstacles I hope to remove with funding, in two words: marketing issues! You have researched and written extensively about the world of indie publishing and you know better than most the difficulties we face.

I certainly do, indie publishing is perhaps the toughest marketplace any entrepreneur could get into. How do you see it?

From my perspective, the biggest drawback to being an indie author is that we don’t have the professional publicity and marketing machine that major publishers use to push their main authors. You can only take your book so far without spending a significant amount of money, just like the publishers do. It’s the way business works.


To read the full article and find out more about why Marsha is doing this, go to Impakter, click here.

Marsha, thanks for taking the time to speak to me, and I urge everyone who’s read this to contribute. As little as $5 will go a long way! Click here to go to Marsha’s Indiegogo campaign and help a writer with an undisputed and remarkable talent so she can get her book known to a broader public. There are tons of people out there who need to read this book and don’t know that they need to!


Available here



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Filed under Baby Boomers, book marketing, memoirs, social media

Digital Revolution Act Two: TheTrue Nature of Amazon Revealed?

Fascinating report from Author Earnings (see here). In the traditional publishing world, the reaction to that report was rather negative (according to the UK Guardian), putting into question the methodology. But even taking into account all the limitations of this report, it still reveals a lot about about Amazon, keeping in mind that 120,000 books included in the report comprise approximately 50% of Amazon e-Book revenue and that Amazon’s own publishing ventures (five imprints) account for only 6% of the total, a surprisingly small share compared to 38% of the “Big Five” (legacy publishers):


OK, Indies account for 31 percent. Fascinating but at the same time frightening: remember, we are dealing here with JUST 120,000 titles (so, out of those, some 40,000 titles are indies) But this is out of a total of how many books in the Kindle Store, 3 million? 4 million? I’d love to know.

Assuming it’s somewhere between 3 and 4 million, that means less than 3% float to the surface and get bought, perhaps even as little as 2%.

The other frightening aspect of this (otherwise brilliant) analysis is the focus on rankings. It really confirms that there are no quality gatekeepers on Amazon, number of sales rule the day! Sales beget sales, historical sales keep a book floating for several weeks, and when sales dip for too long, the book sinks out of sight.

Sales numbers decide whether a book shows up or not in any reader’s searches.

I perfectly understand the logic but I deeply regret it.

It means that numbers trump quality.

Readers navigating Amazon will keep seeing the same books over and over again. If you’ve got a book that doesn’t hit the #100 rank, there’s no hope for you. None whatsoever. Because it means you have no Internet presence, not enough fans to buy your books together at a given point in time so that the ranking is boosted up. Authors with fans acquired in a previous existence as a traditionally published “mid-list author” have an obvious head start in this rankings game, no question about it, and that head start is decisive.

Good for them, but if you’re a newbie, never published before by a trad publisher, beware!

If all this notwithstanding, you do decide to jump into self-publishing, then the two genres that you should write in to have any hope of success, according to this report, are romance and science fiction/fantasy – but especially romance, look at this amazing graph:

Yes, on Amazon, the “Big Five” only seem to do well in thrillers and non-fiction. Thrillers also happens to be the area where Amazon imprints do best. However, for non-fiction, children’s and literary fiction, Amazon imprints are no match to the Big Five, they literally disappear…

Broadly speaking, literary fiction and children’s fiction don’t make the cut on Amazon, it would seem that both kids and persons who like literary reads need printed books from legacy publishers to be happy (I can’t say I’m surprised – that makes sense; ebooks are only good for quick reads when traveling or waiting at the dentist’s).

Of course, all this data needs to be taken with a grain of salt (we know nothing of the rest of what’s on Amazon – from where exactly the other half of Amazon earning stems from, and of course, Amazon won’t tell).

This puts the battle between Hachette and Amazon in perspective, doesn’t it? Some of Hachette authors are surely hurt but it is likely that many are NOT suffering all that much because the majority of their books are not sold in the Kindle Store…

Still, I am shocked that the whole analysis hinges on only 120,000 titles…Your views?

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Filed under Digital Revolution

Digital Revolution Act Two, Amazon vs. Hachette: What Future for Indies ?

The on-going Amazon-Hachette war that started in April is viewed by many as a paradigm shift. The digital revolution is not over yet and the ground is moving, major actors are re-aligning themselves. Whether Hachette or Amazon wins or loses and with what results for authors, particularly for self-published authors, remains to be seen. 


Bob Rector
In short, Amazon is shaking up the publishing industry and a lot of people don’t like it. I blogged about this last week, (see here), and got a remarkable comment from Bob Rector, who’s not only a talented novelist (if you haven’t read Unthinkable Consequences yet, you should) but also a successful playwright (Letters from the Front, an award-winning play that toured the world for 15 years) and a veteran film director who first became famous with “The Now Explosion“, historically the first experiment in music video.
He has a uniquely upbeat take on the changes happening to the publishing industry, no doubt because of his long experience, and I wanted to share it with you. This is what he wrote (I love his uplifting conclusion and I added the highlights): 
Claude, your blog post “The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality?” is a very informative and sobering article that once again leaves my head spinning about the book market today. But also conjures up some memories along similar lines.
A little less than 40 years ago I jumped through these same kinds of hoops but in a different medium: film. I was part of a small production company that decided to make a low-budget feature film for theatrical distribution. The timing was right because several G-rated low-budget ‘outdoor-adventure’ films had done very well, chief among them was Grizzly Adams. The attraction to this genre for the filmmaker was that Mother Nature provided all the sets and most of the players (wildlife) for free. All you had to do was get the cast and crew to a really spectacular location and tell a reasonably entertaining story about a hero single-handedly fighting man’s abuse of nature.

I was chosen to write, direct, and edit for the simple reason that I had more experience than anyone else involved, plus I was still riding on my fame from The Now Explosion. The film was titled Nature’s Way but before its release was changed to Don’t Change My World.

We made the film for next to nothing, just like today’s indie authors produce a book. In its initial screenings audiences responded very positively but to go into wide release, we ran into the same obstacles that indie writer’s face. We weren’t MGM or Universal or 20th Century Fox and they owned the game.
The major studios had long-established relationships with movie theaters around the world, as well as marketing and distribution operations that ran like the proverbial Swiss watch. On the other hand, we were, in effect, knocking on the door of each individual theater. They didn’t want to deal with someone who only had one film to peddle and no marketing machinery behind them. We eventually did sign with a small independent distributor who managed to get our film released nationally but playing at only one or two markets at a time, so the money generated trickled in and seldom covered expenses. Plus the theaters, since they were dealing with a small fry, slow paid, and sometimes no paid, us – something they didn’t dare do with the majors. When we protested they simply said, “So sue us.”
The sad fact of life was that the audiences who saw the film loved it, but getting it in front of an audience was a constant uphill battle that cost more than we could possibly make, especially since much of the time we never saw the money that came into the box office. By the time the theater took its cut (much more severe than Amazon’s take) and the distributor took his cut (always with extra expenses added) and the advertising agencies took their cut, nothing was left (sound familiar?).
The film finally generated significant revenue when it went into non-theatrical release, primarily on cable channels like CineMax (HBO). It was also broadcast by the BBC and several other operators in Europe. The US Navy purchased a hundred or so 16mm prints for showing onboard their ships. A specialty distributor who provided inflight movies for airlines licensed its use. Same for a distributor who supplied films for college campus theaters. And finally the film was released to the newly emerging home video market. The point being, we had to search out and broker all these deals ourselves.
And the same is true for indie publishers/writers. Anybody who has been in business, whether it’s selling books or selling paper clips, knows that it’s never easy and you have to work at it continuously.
Selling is ALWAYS job one. During the 15 years we toured our play Letters From the Front around the world, selling and marketing was a nonstop daily job – and I mean every single day.
So I guess I come to this issue with a little different and perhaps more cynical (based on experience) but realistic perspective.
If there’s money to be made, then big money is going to control the market. Always. Never been any different since the beginning of commerce. Might makes right.
Will fair play come into play? Don’t count on it.
The question to indie writers/publishers is: what are you going to do about it? Throw up your hands and say the deck is stacked and I don’t stand a chance so to hell with it? Or, I have right on my side but I can’t win so I might as well not play? Are you going to take Amazon and the other major players to court and sue them for what you believe are unfair practices? Good luck. They each have teams of lawyers just waiting to bury you.
Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m being dark or negative, please don’t.
As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (although why anybody would want to baffles me). Most of my professional life has been spent finding alternate routes around established institutions, with varying degrees of success. My first rule is to never let somebody else define my pathway to success. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. As far as indie publishing is concerned, my wife (a fellow author) and I are still experimenting and searching out alternative paths. It will take time but it always does. I’m confident that we’ll find a way that works for us. We’ve done it many times before.
The threshold we’re shooting for is not just to make money for ourselves, but to make money for somebody else, preferably a large well-funded organization. That’s what we’ve done before. We found a way to make money for major companies with our product, lots of money. Then they started writing checks to us, big checks. I’m not saying this is the only path. We’re all supposed to be creative people — so be creative about this too!
To be exceedingly trite, we don’t look at this as a problem, we look at it as an opportunity. A huge ground-floor opportunity. And we don’t expect anybody or any organization to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we’re naive. We’ll see.
Letters From the Front stars Bobbi Kravis and Bob Curren meet with troops at Ft. Lee, VA after a performance and distribute free letter writing kits (source: “Why Letters from the Front is so important today”, click here

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Filed under Digital Revolution

Readers vs. Watchers: The Digital Revolution is Not Over

Lately a huge controversy has developed around the theme “Indies are Beating Traditional Publishers”, and one publishing guru, Mark Coker,  the father of Smashwords, has loudly predicted that self-published authors will outrun traditional publishers by 2020, see here. Indie authors, carried forward by the digital revolution that has lowered production costs and leveled the field, are in a feisty revolt led by Hugh Howey; find all the rebels on his Author Earnings website here.

This race between indies and publishers, no matter how exciting, obscures something much bigger: the sea change that is investing the entertainment industry as readers lose out to watchers.

We’re into a brave new digital world where the written word is losing out to the image.

Evidence of this vast change is still anecdotal, but putting all of it together, it adds up.

Take ebook sales. After years of exuberant growth, ebook sales started to flatten out in 2013. I’ve blogged about this before (see here). At first, I thought it was nothing to worry about: a physiological slowdown that indicated the market had reached maturity, that it was better balanced between printed and digital books (good news for the publishing industry!). But now I’m convinced the situation is actually much more serious than that.

It’s the book market’s very survival that is threatened.

Why? Look at what’s happening to the entertainment industry and more generally to our cultural life. Particularly noteworthy:

  • people are about evenly divided between readers and watchers: those were the results of a recent survey carried out in the UK and reported by the BBC (see here) and it’s obvious that the divide is very likely to be the same in the US or any other Western country;
  • the performance of the tv and videogame industry suggests that more and more people watch films and play videogames and less and less people read books.

The videogame industry is huge and has become as big as Hollywood. It is projected to grow from $67 billion in 2013 to $82 billion in 2017, a change happening largely at the expense of the movie and music industries (see this interesting article here explaining why this is happening).

TV is no longer an ‘idiot box’. The ponderous New York Times itself in a recent article signed David Carr (see here) came out with that arresting statement. Look at what David Carr has to say about TV’s “New Golden Age”, here’s a screen shot of a high point in the article:

What a feast indeed! There’s no doubt that TV series, like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones etc are entertaining and well worth watching.

What is worrisome is that more and more intellectuals who were once upon a time big readers now binge on TV series. I know I have – I recently enjoyed for several weeks the Danish political TV series called “Borgen” centered on a fascinating female politician. My consolation is that it is considered “the hottest show in Europe” (see here). And here’s the trailer, you can get it no matter where you live:

In our brave new digital world, the image is displacing the written word, it’s as simple as that.

The ebook has proved to be a neat way to make the written word more accessible to people – on your mobile devices the written word can now follow you anywhere, in the waiting room at the dentist’s, on the plane, in the bathroom, in your bed.  

But the written word has to fight against films and music and videogames, a tough fight!

As to the suggestion that Smashwords is a big success and therefore we shouldn’t have to worry (see article below), there’s no secret: the number of writers who decide to self-publish is increasing exponentially and Smashwords is the platform of choice for them – user-friendly and able to upload  ebooks everywhere, from Apple‘s ibook store to Kobo to Barnes and Noble (though you still have to upload yourself on Amazon’s KDP).

But please note: Smashwords’ success does not translate into increased sales for ebooks worldwide. The two aren’t related.

Don’t get me wrong. The flattening of ebook sales is not for tomorrow morning, there are still big markets to conquer, in particular India, the country that reads the most in the world, see the reading data here.

I’m talking about a long-term trend, that is affecting the written word in all its forms, including blogging. It is now well known that blogs based on the written word alone have much less traffic than those lavishly using videos and photos (see tips #9 and #25 in this comprehensive how-to article for bloggers, click here).

Images win out every time!

The handwriting is on the (digital) wall. This is the end of an era that opened with Cervantes’ Don Quixotte in 1605, the first great novel of modern times, and was propelled by Shakespeare, Molière, Voltaire, Dickens, Goethe, Tolstoy, Tolkien and so many fabulous writers over the next four centuries.

How this new video trend can ever be reversed, I have no idea.

Any suggestions?

Personally, I do see a silver lining: writers will always have a lot of work on their hands, even in this new image-obsessed world: because the images must tell a story, and writers are the story-tellers par excellence

Win a book in our Scavenger Hunt. 8 books, more than 30 copies total. I’m one of the authors sponsoring the hunt with “Crimson Clouds”.  Come and play, click here
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Filed under Blogging, Digital Revolution, Literature

Is the Amazon Ebook Market Model Broken?

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

Is Amazon about to drop self-published writers? Is there any reason why it shouldn’t if self-pubbed titles clog its Kindle Store, making it look like a hastily published slush pile? After all,  the ebook market is reportedly only worth 7% of total Amazon sales and it’s not showing much signs of growing.Yes, that’s not a typo. Ebooks sales are worth only seven percent of total sales to Amazon. Think of Amazon as a virtual WalMart – in fact, I suspect that is the real goal of Amazon, to become the biggest digital department store in the world. The publishing industry is only a side-show for Amazon.

So, if much is wrong with Amazon’s ebook market model, it is not likely that Amazon will care. And perhaps that explains the uneven performance of Amazon in foreign markets where it’s not the only player in town, by a long shot. For example, it is striking to see how Kobo is ubiquitous in Italy, it has its devices on display in most major bookstores but you don’t see Amazon’s Kindle anywhere. According to Ebook Bargains UK, Kobo has made many mistakes in expanding abroad (see first article listed below). Maybe so, but it is still doing pretty well…
Let’s list the challenges facing Amazon:
1. the payment system –  Amazon’s model for expanding abroad has proved to be antiquated; Amazon has followed the old system of expanding abroad with geographically based “offices/virtual store fronts” rather than going global digitally; this means, for example, that New Zealanders are forced to shop in its Amazon Australia beachhead. Why not have a global easy-to-pay system like Google Play (for example, they very successfully use carrier billing in the Far East)?
2. ebook subscription services and digital libraries: Amazon has ignored this new business model, presumably relying on its own Premium system – but how long will they stay out of that particular game? And if they do go in, how will the Big Five react? It’s very likely that they won’t like it and could withdraw their books from Amazon’s shelves. A conundrum for Amazon.
I’ll be honest with you, those subscription services really worry me. I’m speaking of Scribd, and Oyster, the two major subscription services and Overdrive, a digital library. The latter has managed to get one hundred million ebook downloads in 12 years, up to 2012! See here. A huge number.
That (to me) is terrifying, the start of a new trend that could change the shape of the book market forever.
The problem with an ebook is that it is not an object you hold in your hands. It’s nothing, it’s like a bubble of soap. You can’t feel a liking for it the way you might view an old book as an old friend, sitting there on your library shelf in your home. You don’t own it, it’s essentially a digital service, a permanent access to a text available up there in the cloud, somewhere on the Net.
So why own an ebook at all? Why not pay less and get access to the text for the time you need to read it?
Many authors I know are complaining about a slump in sales. This is anecdotal, I can’t prove it. My impression is that the slump which first hit the sales of new, emerging writers in early 2013 has now affected midlist authors (i.e. traditionally published authors that have recovered their rights to their backlist and systematically self-publish those out-of-print titles on Amazon).  These are the very writers who were most successful in the Kindle Store, hitting (at least for a short time) the top 100 rank with every new title they uploaded. They could count on their fans to buy their new titles. Well, it seems they no longer do; 2013 was a stagnant year for many.
Where have all the fans gone? Who knows. But the expansion of subscription services and digital libraries surely acts as a syphon on the market. You as an author may get better known to many more readers thanks to such services, but you are also likely to make a lot less money in future. To what extent this will happen cannot be foretold.
Let’s look at possible solutions.   
One thing that could be done is to fix the Kindle Store. And re-organize good gate-keeping systems to help in book discovery and let “the cream rise to the top”.
For the time being, the way things are in the Kindle Store, the cream cannot rise to the top. And the reason is very simple and can be told in one word: rankings!
To understand why this is so, let’s look first at what’s happened in the environment. Since 2012, the ebook market has changed dramatically. First, the settling of the DOJ case against Apple and the way that has played out seems to have calmed the nerves of the (now) Big Five. They have become more aggressive with their pricing, slowly but surely edging out indies.  Price was the self-published writer’s biggest weapon, it no longer is. We all know that “free” doesn’t work anymore and I fear that “cheap” doesn’t work either. Books under $9 scream out to the readers “beware, this is a self-published work likely to be full of typos and badly structured”.

And then there’s the matter of sheer volume of published titles. The tsunami of self-pubbed authors has totally changed the environement. I know what I’m talking about, some of my books, like the earlier ones I published are buried under one million books or more! Literally buried under and forgotten. That’s because Amazon publishes everyone’s ranking. I’ve complained about this before and done so publicly on this blog only to get comments from indies like “Oh, but nobody pays attention to ranking”. That may have been true once but it no longer is. Readers are savvy and they’ve learned how to navigate Amazon’s Kindle Store. Readers do look at rankings, I’m convinced of it. And the theory that “quality books rise to the top like cream” is a non-starter. How can they rise if readers before buying glance at the ranking and decide it’s not worth buying because the book is sitting down there at the bottom of the ocean of published books?

In other words, the Amazon environment has become toxic. Even Kobo, the latest one on the Big Boys scene, also exhibits rankings. BIG mistake. Rankings should be reserved for the top 100 selling titles, maybe the top 1000 but no more! Then, and only then, if your book is good, you might have a fighting chance to rise with good reviews

If you still have doubts, take a look at the ranking of books that you know for a fact are good. I’ll do it here with just one book as an example, but do take time to navigate the Kindle Store and you will see. The example I want to use here is Amelie Nothomb’s “Fear and Trembling” (see here). Now this is easily a masterpiece of French literature, one of the best books published in the last 15 years. She’s a huge success with young adults, hardly your dowdy old writer. And it is probably the best book she ever wrote, lively, fun, suspenseful, not at all a high-brow literary bore. Yet, in the Kindle Store she is sitting at a ranking around the 300,000th range and has only 46 reviews!! This says a lot about the Amazon environment…

Speaking of reviews…What is truly missing is a gatekeeper system to keep out poorly edited books and help readers find quality reads. Amazon regularly makes efforts to improve its customer review system and sweeps out reviews that are deemed misleading (the famous “sockpuppet” reviews). Unfortunately, when Amazon does that, it creates a lot of discontent among writers and doesn’t really solve the problem.

Perhaps what Amazon should do is set up a two-tier system, with customer reviews and expert critiques.

Most customer reviews are not professional in the sense that they are not comprehensive reviews touching on all aspects of a book (i.e. character development, plot structure, POVs and writing techniques etc).

They are merely opinions written by readers.

Don’t misunderstand me. That is how it should be: a customer has a right to voice his/her likes and dislikes and we authors are very happy when they do, we love to be in touch with our readers! That’s one of the best things about the digital revolution: it has given us, writers, the possibility to be close to our readers and that’s wonderful. But a customer review is not the same as a professional critique, fully structured and substantiated by evidence and references to literary criteria.

This suggests that there is space for two different types of reviews, the customer reviews and the literary critiques. And perhaps an online website linked to Amazon should collect all those critiques and list them for each title…It could be a start towards a system to guide readers to the better reads and finally allow the “cream to rise to the top”.

Any other ideas?

Photo credit: wikipedia

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The Digital Revolution: What Published Authors Really Want

Best selling author Hugh Howey has set up a really cool website to encourage authors, both traditionally and self-published, to come together and (eventually) form a “guild” – or some sort of association to defend authors’ rights against publishers and e-distributors.

To visit, click here. To reade his latest report on author earnings and the state of publishing, click here. Inter alia, it raises an interesting question: are trad publishers losing customers by charging the highest prices in the industry?

Here are the services offered on the home page:

In my (modest) view, it’s about time too and I’m very grateful to Hugh Howey for daring to come out and call people together.

Writers of the World Unite!

I’ve answered the survey and signed the petition (you can see it here). It  makes a lot of sense to me. And look at the analysis of early responses (the day I signed it was 331and 96% of them writers, both published and aspiring):

Clicking 5 means full support, 1 means little/no support. Fascinating, go take a look at the requests!

What I do like about his approach is that he is calling on both traditionally and self-published authors. That’s really the right approach, we are all in this boat together…

Your views? Do go take a look and if you feel like it, please sign the petition. It is also opened to readers and I think that it is right that it should be so. It is in the readers’ interest that their favorite writers should be treated right and make a decent living…

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Two Good Reasons Why You Should Do Audiobooks

Should you do audio books of your titles? The answer is YES! And there are two very good reasons for doing so, but before I get to them, here’s a little introduction to the world of audiobooks.

It’s a new aspect of the digital publishing industry, now worth $1.6 billion (still peanuts) but growing fast. If you’re considering doing an audiobook, I highly recommend the following article by Michael Kozlowski on Good E Reader’s blog, click here. You will see that in addition to Amazon’s services, there are several excellent alternatives you might want to investigate.

Audio titles so far are relatively few (13,255 titles came out in 2012, up from 4,602 in 2009 – compare that to the millions of ebooks). Audiobooks seem to be the province of affirmed writers with a proven market, like, for example Elizabeth Spann Craig, a successful “hybrid” author (“hybrid” means she has both traditionally published books  and self-published titles). She has a hefty number of published books under her belt and writes 3 to 4 books a year, making sure they’re available in ALL formats. See here for her own summing up of her experience in 2013.

What is remarkable about her is that she spends (next to) zero $$$ on marketing, does just a little blogging and facebooking and tweeting (plus a couple of giveaways on Goodreads/year) – in short, she doesn’t relate directly to her readers as an author. They are more interested in her books than in her, they’re fans of her book characters, not of her as a writer or even as a person! This is what she calls “book-centric reader engagement” (and she is engagingly shy and modest about herself). All that means she has to write more books every year to keep it up rather than waste time on book promotion campaigns.

This is where audio-books come in, a format with a rapidly rising audience as more and more people are engaged in activities that preclude reading (for example, all the time wasted driving your car). We’ve all heard of Audible (acquired by Amazon in 2008), ACX and Podiobooks and I won’t go into it here. One of my fellow author friends, Bert Carson, who’s just dived into turning all his titles into audio-books, waxes enthusiastic, check him out here. He’s got a lot to say about making them (see his “lessons learned” sections).

What I do think is that before you make that extra effort of producing an audio-book you should consider whether it is really worth your while. Which gets me to the reasons for doing audiobooks:

Reason #1: You should definitely do an audio book if you are in Spann Craig’s position, where you’ve “saturated” your corner of the market. If not, you’ll find that your audio-books face the same marketing hurdles as all your other formats (ebooks and printed versions) and are in need of selling boosts. Are you ready for that extra-marketing?

But there may be alternatives. For example, producing audio-clips of portions of your book, say a particularly breathtaking passage that could help in marketing your book, though the places to upload your clips are still essentially limited to soundcloud.com, click here to visit. You can set up your “sound” page there and share your clips – also very useful to embed your clips on your blog or website.

Reason #2: with the advent of Amazon’s “Whispersync For Voice”, it makes total sense. Your readers are able to move from reading to listening and back again without losing the place they stopped reading (or listening). Check it out here. The cool thing is that Amazon provides readers with a discounted audio copy if they buy the ebook first. So what you’ve got here is a built-in marketing tool. See here author Stephen Woodfin’s experience that he very kindly shares on the Venture Galleries blog, an eye-opener.

If you’ve had any experience with recording your book, please share!

Latest News about my publications:

Crimson Clouds, (new edition) romance the second-time-around (on Amazon, click here for ebook and here for printed version) Just garnered new three 5 star reviews (excerpts):

“Honest, profound and emotional, Crimson Clouds will have you exploring some of your own emotions and question the meaning of your own life” (Bill Howard);

“The scenes unfold vividly in front of you, full of color and life, like a painting” (Mamta Madhavan);

“By allowing each of the main characters to narrate their side of the story, Claude Nougat skilfully delivered a must-read novel, enabling the reader to have a deeper understanding of the thoughts and feelings of each character” (Faridah Nassozi)

Beware of the offer of a printed first version of the book, under the title “A Hook in the Sky”, see here. It looks nice and cheap ($10.80!) but it’s no longer in print and I have retired it. It’s just that the Amazon system is slow to register change…

Luna Rising, the full saga (new edition, 3 volumes) one young man’s battle to rebuild the family name (on Amazon, click here for ebook and here for the printed version)

Again, beware of the printed version presented  here, it’s cheaper BUT that is the first edition (originally called “Fear of the Past”) and unless you are a collector of rare editions, don’t buy it!

Note: ebook is 40% off compared to buying each e-volume of the saga separately. See here.

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