Two Important Launches: Amazon MatchBook and Oyster

Two pieces of major exciting news for the book industry was announced this month!

First, Amazon is launching a new program called MatchBook in October 2013. The program will allow you to also get the ebook edition of any participating printed book you purchase through Amazon (past or future), for $2.99 or less (or even for free!).

This is incredibly important for a couple of reasons:

  1. Consumers that want to convert their library to digital format can do it now
  2. This increases sales numbers for an industry that has been suffering
  3. It actually supports printed book sales. Consumers may opt to just purchase the hardback since they know they can grab the ebook version as well (especially if it’s free!)

Not to be overshadowed, a new mobile reading platform called Oyster is launching the beta version of their iPhone app and has received lots of hype! Oyster has been dubbed “The Netflix for Books”, and for $9.95 a month you get unlimited access to over 100,000 titles from various participating publishers.

If this receives early success (as I expect it will), more and more publishers will flock to them and offer to add their books to their content library. This could be a game changer for the book industry, and will certainly keep it alive. You can read more about this start up venture here.

I’m calling it right now: This needs to be a strategic acquisition by Barnes & Noble if they expect to stay afloat and compete against Amazon.
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San Diego Comic Con 2013 – Book Promo Ideas

Comic Con is a 4-day event filled with booths, attractions, and more for every sci-fi and fantasy entertainment medium for all ages. Some say it is a celebration of the popular arts, but the industry uses this event as the mecca for promoting all nerd-related activities.

During my visit on Saturday (July 20th), I saw streets filled with people. I passed by screenwriters working on their WIP in a coffee shop, I saw celebrities, I saw numerous people dressed as their favorite characters, and I saw bloggers & reports capturing their experiences in photos and words. To get an idea of how huge this event is, in 2010 they filled the San Diego Convention Center to capacity (130,000) and ever since, they have been expanding the booths and attractions out into the public, taking over streets, occupying vacant business buildings, and taking over and converting restaurants and hotels. It’s a massive event, and when I was approached by 5 girls – all wearing red clothing and red wigs – they handed me the promotional bookmark and button for Pierce Brown’s next science fiction novel: Red Rising (published by Del Rey Books). The back side of the bookmark says it is the most anticipated novel in 2014, and contains a bunch of great reviews. This is a brilliant promotional strategy.

First, everyone at Comic Con is wearing a lanyard; whether it’s a unique one from the booth, or the standard one issued that holds your ticket, the lanyard becomes the location for everyone to show off their “flare”. It gets filled with buttons and pins. Secondly, giving everyone a functional promotional item – like a bookmark – is FAR better than a flier. It stands a much greater chance of actually being used, which creates longevity in the life of the promotion. I was really impressed at the thought that was put behind this simple marketing strategy, but it lacked one critical component…

Someone in a picture-worthy costume to pass out the fliers. Giving out a flier is one thing, but making it into a bunch of people’s photo albums is one of the greatest ways to inject yourself into their memory of their experience at Comic Con. Mark my words, as soon as I have a release date for The Soul Smith, I will hand-build an epic cosplay of Erador (the character on my cover) and walk around while passing out bookmarks and buttons at Comic Con.

Self Published Authors are Hurting the Industry

How many of you are giving free ebooks as gifts to your friends and loved ones this holiday season? None of you, is the answer. That’s because with the price tag of “free”, they can get it themselves, so most likely you’ll purchase the book that they really want. It seems that indie and self-published authors drop the price of their ebooks to “free” as a sales gimmick to gain readers and create a name for themselves. However, what happens in reality is that they just want as many downloads as possible so they can shoot up the ranks of the Top “Purchased” (and I use that word loosely) novel in their genre. But do the ends justify the means? In this case, no. No they don’t.

I can understand how a new author that has no reputation and is trying to make a name for themselves could see that the price of $0.99 or Free make sense for their self-published ebooks. However, an author that sells 100,000 copies at $0.99 will only earn ~$12,000. Earlier, I described what the average income is for authors here, and contrary to popular belief, authors earn very little (especially the self-published ones). Here, take a look at CreateSpace’s (the popular self-publishing service provided by Amazon) royalty calculator here to see for yourself. So if you still think it’s possible to make some money by pricing your book cheap, how many authors do you think have actually sold over 100,000 copies in a year? Take a guess. A whopping 30. I think $0.99 would be a great promotional price, but doesn’t do anyone any good as a permanent price.

Indie and self-published authors are focusing on the wrong thing. They believe that price is the important factor, when I say it is quality that counts. There is no doubt in my mind that when you have a quality product, readers will pay a higher price and will also become returning customers. Not only are many indie and self-published authors reducing the price of books, they are publishing books that don’t have the same level of quality that traditional published works have. I’m referring to editing, fact checking, etc. I’ve downloaded quite a few free ebooks myself, and I’ve come across a lot of novels that I stopped reading due to their need for a copy editor. I’m not exactly sure why, but perhaps some indie authors are just too excited to press “publish” that they don’t want to do another round of editing? My book has been “complete” (and I use that word loosely) for 8 months, and I’m still finding things that I want to edit or emphasize.

So, do the ends justify the means? Let’s consider the super success stories of John Locke and Amanda Hocking, each selling over 1 million ebooks. They might be what keeps you motivated, and may be the proof that you’ll use to debunk my opinion, but if choosing the $0.99 price point was used to gain a following, a reputation, and an easy way to enter the market, then why do these mega-authors still keep their books at $0.99 today? Are they afraid they won’t sell if they raise the price? There is no doubt that the publishing industry is in flux and no one knows where it will land, but if more and more quality novels are self-published and sold for $0.99, then they are setting the expectation for the consumer and are therefor hurting the industry. If the market is expecting prices to be that low, then how are authors ever supposed to make a living selling books? Are we destined to always hold a day-job and write at night? Books are something that can take a year’s worth of our time to write (sometimes more), so we shouldn’t be selling them for $0.99. Our time is more valuable than that.

For further insight and detail into this highly sensitive topic, please read through these two articles:

When Is Your Novel No Longer Considered YA

Like many others, my novel is geared toward a YA (young adult) audience. When an intern at a literary agency provided me her report on my manuscript, it was suggested that my novel either be marketed as an “adult fantasy” because of the main character’s age (he is 19 and turns 20), or alternatively I could make the main character (and by extension the rest of the cast of characters) younger so that it could remain a “young adult” book. I think the reviewer wanted the protagonist’s age to be closer to that of the YA reader so there is more of a bond/connection. But is that truly all that defines a novel as YA?

When consulting an author from my writer’s group on this topic, Jordan suggested, “I would go by the “tone” of the book. Language, themes, violence. Would at any point a young adult reader be shocked or offended by a certain part? If you think the reader could slide through and feel connected to the plot without being upset or lost by vocab etc., I think you should make it YA. YA also covers a larger market. Think about where your series will go. To dark places? Or how your writing will develop. How much do you want to push your craft and bend the norms? If you think your books would have universal appeal, YA is the way to go.

After thinking on this, I come to agree with every word he said. While I am open to making changes to my character’s age, I do not subscribe to the belief that YA novels are directly limited by the protagonist’s age. In my opinion, there are many other elements that should be considered  when categorizing your novel as YA.

When I think on what circumstances identify a novel as YA or adult, I can’t help but liken it to the difference between a movie being rated PG-13 and R. In my novel, I have no “bad words,” but there is a lot of action/violence and one small sex scene, which in today’s world would still be considered PG-13. In addition, my novel is partly about the protagonist’s “coming of age,” which I would think young adults can still connect with regardless of him being 19. When deciding upon what age my characters should be, I took these criteria into account:

  1. I wanted the protagonist to be older than the rest of the adolescents.
  2. I knew there was going to be a lovemaking scene.

With him being older, I figured he had to be 19/20 in order to fornicate with someone younger than him and still have them be 18. When considering our society today, I thought that from the reader’s POV it would be important that my characters are “of age” when they are copulating. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure what the reader’s reaction would be if the characters were underage. Last but not least, I believe my tone and language fit well with the YA market. In my query letters I compared my writing style to that of Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon and the Inheritance series (which is also a YA author).

What are your thoughts on what defines a novel as YA or adult?

How Much Money Do Authors Make

Authors are often stereotyped as being very wealthy, when in most cases, that is not accurate. Only the heavy weight authors (those with the most fame attached) are pulling in the big bucks. For me, being an author was mainly about providing me with a creative outlet as well as being a potential supplement to my income. While I have dreams of having movies and merchandise made after The Soul Smith and The Blacksmiths series, the realist side of me has become comfortable with the idea that my book sales may never become my primary source of income. So, in order to get an idea of what to expect, I started doing some research. According to fellow fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan, (writer of The Riyria Revelations series) the breakdown for how much authors make is shown below:

“Let’s look at some examples for a typical release that starts out in hard cover and is later released in mass market paperback

  • Hardcover: $25.95
  • Kindle: $12.99 (1/2 of hardcover – set by publisher)
  • Amazon buys the books at a discount (usually 50-55% off cover, so they pay $11.57) and might sell it at a discount for $15.24.

The money breaks down as follows:

  • $3.67 to Amazon ($15.24 – $11.57 they pay)
  • $2.60 to author (10% of list price)
  • $8.97 to publisher ($11.57 they get from Amazon – $2.60 paid to author)

On the ebook priced at $12.99 the breakdown is:

  • $3.90 to Amazon (30% of the price the publisher sets)
  • $2.27 to the author (25% of net price)
  • $6.76 to the publisher (Net price – 25% for the author)

Once a book is in mass-market paperback the ebook and paperback are usually priced the same and Amazon does no discounting.

So for $7.99 mass market paperback the print breakdown is:

  • $3.59 – Amazon (No discount – and assumes a 55% discount)
  • $0.64 – author (8% of list price)
  • $3.76 – publisher ($4.40 from Amazon – royalty paid to author)

For the e-book it breaks down like this:

  • $2.40 – Amazon (30% of the list price set by the publisher)
  • $1.40 – author (25% of net price)
  • $4.19 – publisher (Net price – royalty paid to author)

Bottom line, when in hardcover the author makes slightly better money if you buy the print book ($2.60 versus $2.27). When in mass-market paperback the author makes MUCH more if you buy an ebook ($1.40 versus $0.64).”

-Quoted from source: http://bit.ly/QgY3IJ

Books are, of course, the primary product that is being produced when you are an author, however, there are other products that are made that can bring in revenue to the author. There are obvious things, such as Audio Books – and then there are non-obvious things (merchandise) that become obvious once you have a successful brand (and Trademark), such as: T-shirts, board/card games, video games, movies/television, etc.

According to Forbes, the world’s top-paid authors this year (2012) are:

  1. James Patterson, $94 million
  2. Steven King, $39 million
  3. Janet Evanovich, $33 million
  4. John Grisham, $26 million
  5. Jeff Kinney, $25 million
  6. Bill O’Reilly, $24 million
  7. Nora Roberts, $23 million
  8. Danielle Steel, $23 million
  9. Suzanne Collins, $20 million
  10. Dean Koontz, $19 million
  11. J. K. Rowling, $17 million
  12. George R. R. Martin, $15 million
  13. Stephenie Meyer, $14 million
  14. Ken Follett, $14 million
  15. Rick Riordan, $13 million

The majority of the authors listed above make that much money because their novels got turned into a movie or TV series (or in O’Reilly’s case, use TV to promote their books). With media attention like that, many people see the movie/show, buy the book, and purchase the merchandise.

The alternative is self publishing, and statistics show that over half of indie-authors make less than $500 a year. In fact, less than 10% of indie-authors make enough to live off of their earnings. http://bit.ly/Qh7l7J

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, independent writers with the highest earning potential can expect to earn a median salary of approximately $93,420 per year, as calculated in May 2009. The National Salary Data listed on PayScale lists the average author salary, tallied in December 2010, as being between $30,678 and $71,045 per year, with the middle 50 percent earning less than $50,000 per year.” (Quote from source: http://bit.ly/V5ONKW)

Only time will tell if I will be on the Forbes list, or be a statistic for the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the National Salary Data.

Public Poll RE: Publishing a Series of Novels (Agent’s & Publisher’s Opinions Wanted)

When a proposed series of fiction novels are in the works, what caters better to the market: A continuous series or an independent series of novels? These are the things that keep me up at night. =) I would love for agents and publishers to cast a vote (and leave a comment to share their opinion) to see if there are any negative connotations associated with this subject. Authors and readers are also more than welcome to answer the poll as they represent the market.

Without being a published author myself (yet), I can only deduce the pros and cons of each with an outside perspective, and as such, my logic could be completely wrong (hence the need for this poll and for other’s professional opinions).

Composing A Continuous Series (1-2-3)

  1. Pro: This is the traditional form that I think the mass market is familiar with. You can follow the adventures of a single character from beginning to end
  2. Pro: You can lock in your audience with each installment as they immediately connect with your protagonist
  3. Pro: Having captured fans of your novel, you can begin to expect a certain amount of sales to follow
  4. Pro: Movies and TV series favor this type of format (which in turn sells more books)
  5. Con: Obtaining new fans requires that they “catch up” in the series before they read your newest release
  6. Con: Most of the time, a reader knows the protagonist lives at the end because there is a sequel

Composing A Non-Sequential Series (can read in any order)

  1. Pro: If trying to attract new fans, readers can feel comfortable purchasing & reading the newest novel without worrying about reading those released before it. I could be wrong, but I would imagine that in a long series of novels, sales of new books would trickle down over time as not all readers have read the installments before it. (Shouldn’t the first book of a series ALWAYS sell more than the last?)
  2. Pro: This type of series allows readers to engage with a range of colorful characters, and fosters an environment for the author that promotes new creative endings (as opposed to the good guy always wins)
  3. Pro: You can still capture fans in the same way as above, but they purchase your books because of the author’s storytelling ability as opposed to a connection with a particular character, and your connection with that fan ends with that character
  4. Con: Movie/TV deals might be off the table if there is no single character to follow
  5. Con: With sci-fi/fantasy genres, the author will have to continually re-introduce the world in every installment of the series

So cast your vote now! Or leave me a comment to tell me how far off base I am! =)

Being an Unpublished Author with a Website & Cover Art

After asking a couple literary agents what their thoughts were on an unpublished fiction author having a website, I got mixed results. One said, “You will need it at some point.” Another said, “It’s not necessary.” But the third is what convinced me that it is a must-have. She said, “Agents and Publishers like to see that you are ‘publishing-ready’, and having a website shows you’re committed to becoming published, that you’re invested. Consequently, they take you a bit more seriously.”

That was all I needed to convince myself that I must have a website… but what do I put on the website? Should it be dedicated to this one book/series? Or should it be dedicated to me as an author? What artwork do I put on the website (it can’t just be all text)? So I did some research to see what other fantasy authors have done with their websites. Terry Brooks http://terrybrooks.net/ made his to support himself as an author and all of his books. Christopher Paolini http://www.alagaesia.com/ made his just to support his series. I decided that I would make my website about me as an author, so that it’s flexible enough to support all my future books, but currently, it just supports my novel and the proposed future Black Smith series.

I knew I needed artwork, so I commissioned Natalie Salvo for the task, and I must say, it was everything I could have hoped and dreamed. (If you need cover art, you should hire her too! See my Contact page for details). Getting the cover art was not solely done for the website, of course. I whole heatedly intend for it to be my actual book cover (unless a publisher strong arms me otherwise). But, what it really allowed me to accomplish was a professional web-presence, and a never-ending marketing campaign. Every photo, avatar, and icon across all social media and the entire web became my book cover. In addition, once a reader sees the cover, it brings their imagination to life. They can visualize my characters around a common baseline; considering my characters are of an entirely new race of creatures known as elkin, it can be useful.

I recommend that any aspiring author should do the same. I have already begun to experience the benefits of having a website and cover art; though however small, it does not belittle their significance: 1) Beneath my signature when querying agents, I can post a link to my website. 2) On every website that requires membership, I am able to provide my website URL and picture of my cover art for widespread marketing. 3) After reading a query letter, a curious agent will click my link, see the incredible art that was born from my imagination and even be able to read a sample chapter (my prologue). 4) Begin capturing a following early on, so that as THE SOUL SMITH nears publication, I have a much wider audience to tell. 5) I can elaborate on my Bio, where the guidelines of a query letter prevent me from telling my story. 6) It has created a future haven for fans of The Soul Smith. It will be a place where I can reward my fans with additional info (like providing them the short story that I am writing), and keep a record of news on the developments for the rest of the series.

There has only been one drawback. When it was time to submit my full completed manuscript for consideration, I debated heavily as to whether I should put the cover art on. In the end, I erred on the side of caution and held true to the traditional manuscript format. All too often, I’ve heard agents warn authors not to try to deviate from the “rules”. Anything that you do to make yourself stick out is just a red flag to them. You simply just have to wow them with your voice and your writing alone.

The last benefit that it provides is it supports my backup plan (which I hope I will never have to implement). I have all the tools necessary to self-publish, but that is my very last option. If I don’t get an agent this time, I will publish my short story in a magazine, join SFWA, enter my short story in contests, and then put all that in my bio. Then I’ll query more agents. If I still don’t get a favorable response, then I’ll query publishers directly. If I am still unsuccessful, then and only then, will I self publish. My dreams are too big to rely on self-publishing. I want to create an audio book, I want to sell supplemental books that detail the world and contain my short stories… I can see The Soul Smith on the big screen, I can see action figures, video games, board games, replica swords, and other merchandise. My book will be a success, it’s just a matter of how much.