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Despite the successes Hugh Howey has enjoyed as an author, he began his keynote at today’s PubSmartCon event by stating that his is not a road map to success that anyone should follow, largely because he doesn’t know where he’s going. The tongue-in-cheek opening to his presentation is only partly humorous; part of Howey’s charm and allure as a writer and a publishing industry watcher is that he is the first to admit that it is all largely surprising.

“Someone said we were going to outline roadmaps for how we got to where we are. I’m going to do two things: tell you not to follow me because I don’t know where I’m going, and to share with you all the really bad ideas I’ve had over the years. I narrowed it down to my top 5,000 bad ideas, and then the top 500, and I think it got it down to my worst fifteen or twenty.”

Howey recounted a humorous story about his first disastrous efforts at navigating a large sailboat, likening it to the current state of publishing. “Where we are as experts is we’re looking at yesterday and trying to tell you what tomorrow’s going to be like. It’s what weather forecasters and hurricane forecasters do. It’s not a very good road map. What’s exciting is that someone out there should be up here telling us what they think.”

In his typical humility, Howey disparaged the idea that interview subjects should be some of the bigger names in publishing. “The ones who should be up here giving talks are the midlist authors, traditional or self, who their lives are being changed by these new tehcnologies. No one interviews those people, they wait until they’re outliers. There are people out there who are making a living with their work and no one’s ever heard of them, that’s the real story of self-publishing.”

Howey went on to expand on a number of ideas that are currently held in the industry in an air of dispelling the myths. One of the more profound ideas is that the rise of retail giant Amazon has actually been a good thing for independent book stores, as he outlined by demonstrating that shoppers who go to Amazon are looking for books whose titles they know in order to have a discount, but that the loss of browsing opportunities like Borders forced more consumers to look for book recommendations in smaller stores where individuals knew their customers.

In that vein, Howey supported the idea that self-published authors, long suffering from difficulty in getting their books placed in physical bookstores, shouldn’t concern themselves with the placement of their work in physical bookstores as the majority of sales are coming from online retail outlets.

More important is Howey’s concept of the weather forecaster, understanding that looking at what has worked in the past is not the safest bet when it comes to understanding how publishing is changing.

“Looking at trend lines is a bad idea for where this industry is going. The reason this industry is changing is the cost of producing and distributing books has plummeted to almost zero. When there’s a market force like this, it upsets an entire industry.”

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At today’s PubSmartCon panels, industry professionals presented a panel on the business side of being a career writer under a newly coined term, authorpreneur. By viewing being a published author, regardless of the mode of publication, as a small business owner with serious investment concerns and prioritization to be met.

A panel presented by Amanda Barbara of book crowdfunding site Pubslush, C. Hope Clark of FundsforWriters, Miral Sattar of BiblioCrunch, and Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors offered a wealth of information about how to proceed with a publishing project, knowing that writing a great book is only the first and most important step towards a professional career.

“We help authors, both self-published authors and traditionally published authors, to really have the tools to build their platforms before they publish,” explained Barbara to the panel attendees. “It’s important for authors to have a place to build buzz around their books through social media. Readers really want to be able to connect with their favorite authors. We recently launched a program to allow publishers and different partners in the industry like self-publishers and editors to actually launch white-labeled pages on Pubslush.”

Pubslush, who sees its mission as more of a preorder tool that lets authorize monetize on their preorder sales in order to secure the services they need for publishing, states that the term crowdfunding can be misunderstood by supporters. Still, that hasn’t prevented the site from helping numerous authors meet their goals for their books through these preorders.

Clark, herself a mystery writer, launched a site that has been a Writer’s Digest Best Site for Writers for thirteen years. “I started FundsForWriters when I could not sell my mysteries, and I was so hellbent on being a writer I decided to do something, no matter what it was. FundForWriters gave me a platform to turn back around and develop the mystery series. My mantra is to not think that you’re going to go from point A to point B. You’re writing career is going to take off on all kinds of tangets.”

These tangents, according to Clark, naturally evolves into the author’s route to publication and ultimately career satisfaction, which is ultimately a better measure of success than any other factor.

BiblioCrunch’s CEO Miral Sattar explained the purpose of the platform as an Angie’s List of professional publishing resources, offering assistance to both authors and publishers alike; she and Ross spoke to the need for understanding where to find quality professional resources.

Some of the focus that the panelists offered was that there is no single method that will succeed for every book or every author. Also, crowdfunding as a solution is often misunderstood, both by people who’ve launched campaigns and by those who’ve supported them; in the case of these book preorders, it’s not a matter of asking ones own friends and family members to donate as it is selling content to interested parties. Clark pointed out that one of the major obstacles for authors in this regard is that there seems to be a disconnect between authors and discussions of money, as though the creative aspect is somehow going to make up for the business side of publishing and selling. Sattar rounded out the discussion by offering insight for authors in attendance on review and promotional opportunities, a notoriously difficult hurdle for many writers, as well as the need for vetting some of the professionals who claim to have knowledge of the industry.

Ross went on to remind authors that creating a fantastic product is not a solo effort, even for authors. “People think [independent] means just self-publishing only, but it means that you define yourself as the creative director of your book from conception to completion. Self-publishing is a misnomer because we don’t do this by ourself. You are in the partnership business, you are a collaborator.”

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At this morning’s keynote event from the 2014 PubSmartCon in Charleston, South Carolina, publishing industry professional Jane Friedman spoke on the roundabout definition of what it means to publish in the current climate. Examining it from its early roots, all the way through publishing via blogging, the session explored what authorship and readership have come to mean.

“It was the rise of literacy that allowed authors to make a living because it increased the market demand for books. But what’s interesting to me in the current dynamic is how everyone is becoming an author through social media and other instant publishing tools, whether that’s WordPress or KDP or Smashwords that allow you to control when, where, and how you distribute your words.”

Friedman went on to explanation how the growth of universal literacy has led to the concept of universal authorship, in which anyone has the ability to amplify their reach through publishing.

“This greatly changes the environment that we’re in, whether it’s in trying to increase visibility, make money, or either one. The universal authorship trend has driven up the number of titles that get published…but this is not even beginning to capture the entire universe of content that’s out there.”

Friedman was, of course, referring to the number of titles–both traditionally and self-published–that are known to be published under an ISBN number, something that not all books have. These numbers are known to be much higher than her data was able to indicate.

“Publishing is a button that you can press and distribute your ideas instantly to a worldwide audience. It used to be more of a rarefied process, controlled by the so-called gatekeepers or by people who were professionals who had very specialized knowledge. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, that calls into question, ‘What does it mean to publish when anyone can do it?’”

Friedman’s question has been asked by both supporters and critics of the current trends in publishing, but she portrays and industry where readers transform the social fabric surrounding the culture of books. But her more profound statement involved an understanding that Amazon is not an enemy of publishing, but the failure of publishers to sell to consumers and understand their readers in a more personal way is that enemy.

One suggestion Friedman carried for an industry that is struggling through the scarcity of attention for the abundance of content out there is to better understand the reader-book relationship and return attention to the readers. A number of trends she highlighted that are especially working for authors where they are is the mobilization of reading on smart devices, the return of serials through a wide variety of platforms, and the verticals of companies that are already making headway in the industry.

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One of the often overlooked formats in the focus on digital versus print books is the audiobook, a separate entity that–despite a long standing history–still gets relegated to only certain titles. Through the launch of companies like Audible and the later ACX platform, audiobooks are currently enjoying a resurgence among old and new fans alike.

Findaway World, a company that has partnered with publishers around the globe to produce audio renditions of titles, has a catalog of more than 50,000 audiobooks, but offers them in unique and innovative ways through its digital platform and through its Playaway devices.

Playaways, a concept whose technology seems backwards at first glance, is actually a brilliant tool for putting audiobooks in front of as many listeners as possible, specifically in school, library, and even deployed military outposts. The devices are essentially MP3 players that contain only one book, making it possible for a large number of patrons to borrow the preloaded devices. While Playaways come with an inexpensive pair of ear buds tucked nicely in the hardshell case, many schools and libraries encourage users to keep their own headphones handy in order to borrow multiple titles.

Now the creators of the Playaway have launched AudioEngine, a platform that allows seamless access to Findaway World’s catalog of titles. Authors, publishers, and rights holders can incorporate their audiobook editions into AudioEngine through submission and agreements with Findaway World.

“We have one of the world’s largest collections of digital audiobooks and had been focused on preloaded devices,” said Ralph Lazaro, VP, Digital Products Group, in an interview with Good e-Reader. “We started to build apps for partners who wanted audiobooks, and we would build custom apps for them. Along the way, we started to see the growth potential of the audiobook market–it was a $1.2 billion dollar market in 2012 and $1.6 billion in 2013–and most of that growth has come from downloadable streaming which is picking up a lot of the market share.”

Publishers are responding to that growth by releasing more audio titles than ever before, with audiobook new releases reaching 200% growth over the year before. Of course, ACX has enabled self-published authors and small press publishers to tap into this growing audiobook market as well. Digital downloads have also enabled a new breed of reader to enjoy the titles; in the past, audiobooks came on CD and offered eight to ten hours typically of content. With mobile devices, listeners can enjoy their books whenever they find themselves with time, and then return to the title later.

According to Findaway World, several leading companies are currently using AudioEngine to power audiobooks in their platforms, including 3M (Cloud Library), Mackin (MackinVia), Baker & Taylor (Acoustik) and Follet (Catalist Digital), with many other large retailers, content providers, and distributors launching worldwide throughout 2014.

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It is shockingly easy to enter a book into the Pulitzer Prizes in Letters competition. The author (in most categories) must be an American citizen, the book must be available for sale in print, it must have first been published that year, and the person submitting the book has to send four copies of the book and a fifty dollar entry fee. That’s it.

It’s easier and cheaper to submit a book to the Pulitzer jury than it is to get a driver’s license. So why aren’t more indie authors doing it?

It may possibly be the mindset that the Pulitzer, whose journalism award is equally prestigious and possibly more well-known due to its significance in reporting, is for the elite authors only. But by the entry rules’ own guidelines, there is no requirement–unlike some other well-known and allegedly prestigious awards–that the book be traditionally published, nor that the publisher submit the book for entry. The author herself can enter her work.

Incidentally, the Pulitzers have been awarded for 2013, with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch taking the prize for fiction. Other category winners include Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall (biography), Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin (non-fiction), and 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri (poetry).

In wholly related news, the Amazon/CreateSpace Breakthrough Novel Awards released the quarter final list yesterday, narrowing the field even further from its original 10,000 entries in each category. In this stage, editors from Publisher’s Weekly will read and review the remaining titles, providing that valuable feedback to the authors before further eliminations take place. The final round will be determined by reader votes later this spring.

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On last week’s IndieChat event, hosted every Tuesday night on Twitter by publishing solutions company BiblioCrunch, the guest speaker was from a new tool, InstaFreebie. This platform allows authors to easily create a free version of their books–with or without DRM and reader watermarking, as they choose–in order to share them with readers. I happened to mention that I used the platform in March and between InstaFreebie and KDP Select gave away over 200 copies of my books in March alone.

The response was immediate: “Aren’t you worried about those lost sales?”

At this year’s London Book Fair, taking place now, self-publishing success story Hugh Howey spoke on a panel with the UK head of Kobo Writing Life, one of the top three major self-publishing platforms. Howey, who has openly stated in the past that his story is not typical for indie authors, explained the purpose and the benefits to giving away free books as a reader engagement tool.

Many publishing industry professionals caution against giving away free content, as they feel it reduces the value in the eyes of the reader. Likewise, surveys have shown that low price points for books make readers respond negatively, as if thinking to themselves, “How good can it be? Even the author didn’t think it was worth a whole dollar.”

But Howey’s point is that only truly undervalued books are the ones that no one reads because they can’t find them. In this time of difficulty for book discovery, offering your content–especially backlist content–to readers is a way to entice them into getting to know the rest of your list.

Howey went on to expand on his fear that the current climate of self-publishing will continue to perpetuate the model that traditional publishing has always experienced, namely that there will be a limited number of bestselling and successful authors at the top, followed by the remaining “unknowns.” He explained that the self-publishing market should be a place where every author can find his audience, and enjoy some measure of success, regardless of how that success manifests itself.

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Over on the Smashwords blog, CEO and founder Mark Coker posted some interesting information about the demographics of the bestselling authors on the site. According to the Smashwords bestseller list, published each month by Publisher’s Weekly, the top twenty-five bestselling titles on Smashwords for the last many months have all been written by women.

All of them.

Coker himself went to the iBooks store and Amazon US to compare their numbers and found the women outnumbered men there as well. Sixty-four percent of the top twenty-five titles in iBooks were written by women, and fifty-six percent of the Amazon bestsellers were written by women.

While Coker can give some explanation on the Smashwords site–romance is the top-selling genre there and the majority of those titles are written by women–that is certainly not the case with iBooks or Amazon. Also, only two-thirds of the top twenty-five books on Smashwords are romance; the remaining titles are historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery, not genres that are fully dominated by female writers, although women do figure highly in those numbers.

Coker himself has no explanation for the clean sweep by female writers, but did have this to say:

“Why are women dominating the Smashwords bestseller lists, other than the fact that these women are all super-awesome writers? One likely factor is that romance is the #1 bestselling genre at Smashwords, and romance is overwhelmingly written by women. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m constantly blown away the smarts, savvy and sophistication of romance authors. These ladies have pioneered many of the ebook publishing and distribution best practices that so many indies take for granted today. But strong romance performance doesn’t fully explain the story.”

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With indie authors often barred from prestigious writing and book awards, smaller companies have had to launch their own forms of author recognition. IndieReader and Foreword Reviews are known for two of the more widespread awards, as is Amazon/CreateSpace’s ABNA awards. But in a publishing climate in which many newspapers and media outlets still have policies against even reviewing self-published works, let alone awarding them, those other awards can feel bittersweet.

But some headway has occurred now that The Guardian has announced its monthly award to recognize self-published works, with the support of industry mainstay Legend Times. According to a press release on the award, the motivation for the move is simply the self-publishing has become too important to continue being ignored.

“The phenomenon of self-publishing over the last couple of years has become too big for any of us to ignore. We’ve showcased some of the proven stars on the Guardian Books website. We’re confident that our partnership with Legend Times, who lead the way in industry innovation, will give us a chance to find the brightest and the best in this dynamic new sector,” explained Claire Armitstead, Literary Editor of The Guardian.

While judges for the award will still include traditional publishing industry professionals, the acquisitions editor for independent publisher Legend Times will also weigh in. Authors may submit one English-language novel per year, always during the initial two weeks of any calendar month. For entries, go to http://www.theguardian.com/books/series/self-publishing-showcase.

An example of the behavior authors like Rice are working to stop.

An example of the behavior authors like Rice are working to stop.

Good e-Reader has given extensive coverage to a situation plaguing the publishing industry, both from a self-publishing standpoint and a traditional one: author bullying. While information has come out that some authors have engaged in less-than-professional tactics, particularly where book reviews are concerned, the situation has escalated to the point that some well-known authors like Anne Rice have lent their support to calling for a change in how online platforms allow anonymous “trolling” of authors and their works.

News has come out this week of at least two authors who have declared that they will no longer write and publish their works due to the behaviors of a handful of people. Authors Sarah Daltry and Nadine Christian, independently of each other, have announced on their blogs and social media that they will be closing their accounts and removing all of their self-published works, although they will be unable to do anything to remove their contracted titles.

Daltry had this to say on a blog dedicated to her decision:

“I want to start positive. For all of you who have supported my work and been there through this process, thank you. I will be eternally grateful. I wish I could have done more, could have been more, because it means so much to me that you’ve stuck by me. For the characters – especially Jack – thank you for trusting me with your stories. I love you with a part of myself that will always belong to you. I’m so sorry I didn’t do you justice and that you trusted me rather than someone who could have truly given you a voice.”

In Christian’s case, the aggressive behavior was never in the form of book reviews, but rather in personal and anonymous contacts in the form of harassing emails and messages. She spoke with Good e-Reader about the behavior and her decision to discontinue her work as a writer.

“If being in the public eye led to that sort of vicious — and obvious stalking — was it worth continuing? I love to write, but would putting my work out there be worth the heart ache? The reaction I feel deep down every time I open an email from someone I’m not sure of was starting to give me stomach pains.”

In this age of online anonymity that allows small people to behave this way towards authors, why couldn’t Christian simply change her online name and start over, building a new brand and readership?

“It had run through my mind. Starting over, becoming Joe Bloggs, Jane Doe. But what if it’s me? What if I’ve done something to someone and not realised it? What if it’s my location, personality, even writing style that’s insulted so many? I love to write, even if it’s not published.”

What makes the bullying so disturbing in Christian’s case is that the author herself admits that she’s far from being a bestseller, and simply enjoyed writing and publishing her work and making her fan base happy; she has also stated that she did not engage in any of the behaviors which the so-called Goodreads bullies say justified their relentless attacks against authors, such as responding to negative reviews or blogging about the issue. The targeted behavior, which has lead to multiple harassing and threatening emails sometimes daily, isn’t aimed at someone who is serious competition or even on an international stage. The author herself remains unaware of what brought on this rabid attack.

“Some [of the messages] are about me and where I live, which makes me wonder if that’s the fun for these people. Hassle me about who and where I am, what I do. Most though–eighty-five percent–are about my writing.”

Both Daltry and Christian are in the process of removing their works and closing their blogs and social media accounts.

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Readers and authors alike have been crying foul over book reviews from a variety of sources lately. Between the mysterious disappearing act that happens quite often with reviews posted to Amazon, the widespread news of authors buying favorable reviews from pay-per-star services, and the scandalous situation with author and reviewer bullying, reading consumers have had a hard time trusting any sort of reader feedback on a book.

A new startup has devised a mechanism that stands to erase most of those issues, even while not intentionally setting out to solve these problems. Screwpulp, a mash-up of the name of Gutenberg’s original printing press and the term for inexpensive yet intriguing reads, actually sought to be a new discovery marketplace for books that worked to price them according to what they’re actually worth. The end result, however, can be a revamping of the entire structure of book reviews.

“The idea was to come up with a way to price books properly,” explained Screwpulp’s CEO Richard Billings in an interview with Good e-Reader. “We felt like Amazon and some other places were devaluing what a book is worth, and there seems to be no mechanism that shows what the market can bear, supply and demand being the typical way. There’s an endless supply of digital products, and even major publishers are having trouble with pricing.”

Screwpulp works by letting authors or publishers submit their books to the site, then those books are available for free until they have twenty-five reviews. Once a book reaches that threshold, its price goes up to one dollar. It continues to increase in increments based on the number of reviews.

Since it would be far too easy to play the system and gather supporters to post fake reviews in order to monetize on the book, Screwpulp has come up with an ingenious system for weighting the reviews, for giving more credence to reviews from habitual users (as opposed to an author’s college roommate coming in and leaving one review), and for helping ensure that bullying is not an issue by comparing the reviews against each other and giving more weight to reviews that are obviously genuine. Readers and authors will have the ability to flag a review for removal for inappropriate content or for very obvious signs that the reviewer did not read the book.

While the platform is in beta, there’s a submission process for new titles. Once the platform goes public, there will be a submission form that lets anyone upload titles. A vetting process will look for offensive content or plagiarized material, but otherwise everyone is welcome to submit their work. Other tools are expected to roll out as the platform progresses, including design tools and promotion.

“We see indie authors as a start up, and we want to provide them with all of the viable tools to be a business.”

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In the ongoing world of us-against-them where traditional and self-publishing are concerned, there is possibly no greater source that fosters this antagonism than among authors themselves. Phrases like “real author” get thrown around among writers, and organizations, contests, and review opportunities specifically alienate self-published authors and their works. But one group has extended a small but significant olive branch that will hopefully work to tear down the stigma authors have against each other.

The Authors Guild, an organization that advocates for authors and their works, has traditionally only supported “real” authors. In recent years, self-published authors were allowed to join, but only after meeting a minimum sales requirement within an eighteen-month period. Interestingly, the membership page for AG lists three categories of members: book authors, freelance writers, and writers, mentioning in parentheses that self-published “writers” fall into that last category, indicating intentionally or not that they are not authors.

Now, however, AG has its first-ever executive council member who is a self-published author. NYT bestselling author CJ Lyons was elected to the board, and the leadership has been very specific that her role is to champion the needs of self-published “authors” within the organization.

In a recent report by the The Los Angeles Times, the Guild’s new president, Roxana Robinson, stated, “As writers, we are living in very interesting times. The challenges are huge and I am thrilled to be a part of it all… We’re going to move ahead, we’re going to extend our membership, we’re going to continue to offer practical help and advice and a sense of community to our writers, and we’re going to continue to support the craft of writing.”

Interestingly, the Guild has become more open recently, offering associate membership to self-published authors who do not meet the $5000 minimum earnings requirement. According to the Guild’s membership page, “You may qualify as an Associate member if you’ve been offered a contract with an established American book publisher, if an established literary agency has offered to represent you, or if you have earned at least $500 in writing income… Associate members are eligible for the same benefits and services as Regular members with the exception that they cannot vote in Guild elections. Once an Associate member’s book is published they can become a Regular member.”

Membership is $90 for the first year, then is adjusted based on writing income for future years.

Apr
01

Camp NaNoWriMo Kicks Off Today

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Most authors and even a good number of readers have at least heard of NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month–if not actually participated themselves. Staged each year in November, the high-pressure event has given rise to a number of bestselling books both traditionally and self-published, including titles like Water for Elephants and Hugh Howey’s Wool. At last year’s event, more than 500,000 participants around the world signed on to crank out a 50,000-word novel in 30 days’ time.

The growing popularity of NaNo, the fact that a number of participants had trouble with the timing of the event, and the desire for more opportunities than just once a year have given birth to two different events that follow much the same concept: Camp NaNoWriMo. The camp is a month-long virtual writer’s retreat with an outdoorsy theme, which still challenges participants to write every day and maintain some level of discipline about it.

The first of the two Camps kicks off today, and writers awoke today–yes, April Fools’ Day–to hammer out their word counts. But one of the ways that Camp NaNo offers writers a different sort of motivation than even a typical November NaNo is that it is a lower-pressure sort of event that instead focuses on giving writers the opportunity to broaden their writing experiences. Participants are invited to write any type of project, like poetry, screenplays, short stories, and of course, novels.

In a BiblioCrunch Twitter chat on Camp NaNoWriMo, Grant Faulkner, executive director of National Novel Writing Month, said, “You can design your own creative writing retreat in Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s difficult to try to immerse oneself in creativity. Nano puts creative immersion on the calendar.”

NaNo novels have been looked down on in recent years as being rush jobs that authors put to market far too quickly, but the writing itself is meant only to be a tool for authors to hold themselves accountable to a daily word count and to focus on their own writing processes for thirty days. The end result may need a lot of polishing (with a chainsaw, even), but as an exercise in discipline and craft, it’s a vital tool.

Participants can still sign up to take part in this month’s Camp NaNo at http://campnanowrimo.org.

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One of the world’s well-known sources for global books rights is the IPR License organization, making international rights deals possible for authors, agents, and publishers. The organization announced today that it has a new item to offer rights holders, namely a desktop solution to rights selling called Trade Rights.

According to an announcement from IPR License, “Previously only available exclusively to members, the platform has now opened its doors to allow access for all interested parties across the industry looking to buy and sell whole book rights on a global scale. This will allow a wide-range of parties to make offers on titles and complete full transactions to help increase existing, and create new, revenue streams for all links in the publishing chain.”

Until now, international book fairs were some of the only opportunities in the industry for international publishers to acquire rights to titles. This streamlined solution makes rights sales possible in an ongoing way, ideally speeding up the time to market for readers around the world to enjoy new titles.

Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License, stated in the announcement, “It’s evident from speaking to publishers all over the world that they clearly recognise the current wealth of opportunities available in rights and licensing. And that rights deals are no longer solely centred around book fairs and contact books. Rights will continue to be a personal business but through IPR License leads and revenue can be maximised 24/7 thanks to the ability to now complete deals from a desktop.”

The ability to list a title for sale through Trade Rights is only available to members of the IPR License platform. This latest offering is part of IPR’s ongoing features updates that will launch throughout the rest of the year.