Indie Author News

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The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards have reached the next stage in the process, the quarter finals. Here, the overwhelming number of entries was cut down to 100 entires in each of the five categories, and in this stage, the authors who have made it this far receive something a little extra for their accomplishment: a Publisher’s Weekly review.

Author Kelly Stone Gamble, whose book Ragtown is still in the running, had this to say about the process:

Ragtown took several years to research, over two years to write and another two to edit. I’ve had so much interest in the subject area during this time, receiving messages and emails from people all over the world about their interest in the subject, and that kept me going on this project. I hadn’t really thought about the popularity of the Hoover Dam, but it is the number one off-Strip destination for Las Vegas visitors, and that means millions every year from all over the world. So while I of course want to write the best story possible, I’ve felt some kind of responsibility to these people, the ‘Dam fans,’ to make Ragtown a great book. Making it into the quarter finals not only validates the years of hard work I’ve put in to the novel, but also lets me know that I’ve done exactly what I set out to do. Write a good book. A good dam book.”

Rysa Walker, author of the YA book Timebound and the upcoming sequel Time’s Echo, was the grand prize winner of last year’s ABNA awards, and said,

“Many contestants, myself included, enter the ABNA simply hoping to make it to the quarter finals stage since win or lose, you walk away with a Publisher’s Weekly review of your manuscript. For those who have already self-published or who are planning to self-publish in the future, that can be a very powerful marketing tool. Even if the overall review isn’t stellar, there’s usually something you can pull out as a potential tweet or addition to the back cover. When the PW reviews were posted last year and I saw the words ‘Katniss Everdeen of time travel,’ my first thought was that it was perfect for marketing. Only after that happy thought had settled in did I realize that it also meant Timebound was still in the contest and had a shot at one of the publishing contracts.”

The next level of selection will come on June 13th when the contest organizers announce the semifinalists. The complete list of quarter finalists can be found HERE.

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To say that self-publishing has unleashed something profound around the world is an understatement. Whether it’s through the launch of ebooks and print-on-demand books or just a blogging or social media platform, digital publishing has made it possible for individuals to put their ideas in front of a broader audience. It cannot be a coincidence that the global spread of ideas and the actions of individuals such as the recent Arab Spring have taken place in a climate of mass content sharing.

To that end, one of the individuals who has probably done more towards furthering the ability of individuals to reach a larger plane with their ideas is Mark Coker, CEO and founder of Smashwords. His vision for giving authors a place from which to release their works is only six years old, but in that time his work has made hundreds of thousands of titles available for readers around the globe.

Today, Coker posted on the Smashwords blog not only his deeply held beliefs about writing and publishing, but also this document:

THE INDIE AUTHOR MANIFESTO

We indie authors believe all writers are created equal, that all writers are endowed with natural creative potential, and that writers have an unalienable right to exercise, explore, and realize their potential through the freedom of publication.

I hold these truths to be self-evident:

I am an indie author.
I have experienced the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from self-publishing.
I have a right to publish.
My creative control is important to me. I decide when, where and how my writing graduates to become a published book.
Indie does not mean “alone.” I choose my partners.
I shall not bow beholden or subservient to any publisher. In my business relationships, I seek partnership, fairness, equity and mutually aligned interests.
We indie author comprise diverse writers unified by a common purpose to advance, empower and celebrate writers everywhere.
I am a professional. I take pride in my work, and I strive to improve my craft to better serve my readers, myself, my fellow indie authors and the culture of books
My writing is valuable and important. This value and importance cannot be measured by commercial sales alone.
I celebrate the success of my fellow indie authors, for their success is mine, and mine theirs. Together we are pioneering a better future for books marked by greater quality, creativity, diversity, choice, availability, affordability and accessibility.

According to Coker, who so humbly describes self-publishing as a “global movement,” in his post said, “Critics say self publishing is causing a tsunami of drek that will destroy book culture and render the best books undiscoverable.  Not true.  Yes, self publishing will enable more horrible books to be published than ever before, but it will also enable more better books to be published, discoverable and enjoyable than ever before.  There’s a yin and yang to this.”

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For many self-published authors, the various ebook distribution platforms that have made it easier than ever to put content in front of readers are the only avenue to publication. But with the variety of companies who have begun to offer legitimate, cost effective ways of offering readers a print edition as well, there’s no reason not to release a book simultaneously in both ebook and print.

Blurb, who began as a limited print company who specialized in niche books like professional portfolios before expanding into genres like indie cookbooks and art books, announced today that it has a host of new features for authors, including free ISBN numbers, direct to Amazon distribution for print, and a new tool called BookWright that lets authors upload without having to have the expertise to submit files through Adobe’s InDesign.

“Blurb BookWright and Blurb to Amazon distribution have both evolved from years of learning, absorbing customer feedback, and the internal desire to bring a fully featured book creation platform to all potential authors,” says Eileen Gittins, Blurb founder and CEO. “I’ve wanted to make an announcement this simple and clear for years: Make your book once and publish it anywhere, for print or for ebook. Today is that day, and Blurb has become the indie author’s best friend. We’re fulfilling our promise to bring publishing to everyone.”

While there will eventually be a reasonable setup fee ($29US) per title, Blurb is currently running a free promotion that allows anyone to give the platform a try. BookWright is also free to setup and experiment with in order to test out features like professionally designed pre-built starter layouts for a variety of book types, an easy-to-use WYSIWYG design process from start to finish, the ability to import book files directly from existing Blurb tools, and more.

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Now that the world of self-publishing has become more commonplace and tools are in place to help authors from a variety of skill levels complete their works for publication, one of the chief hurdles that authors still seek help for is marketing. Book promotion continues to be a huge obstacle to success for authors, regardless of publishing mode. A panel at the recent PubSmartCon, chaired by Shari Stauch, CEO of Where Writers Win, discussed the merits of professional book reviews and book clubs as avenues for book discovery.

NetGalley’s Tarah Theoret spoke about the service that links books with reviewers. “We have over 200,000 publishers as clients, and we work with traditional publishers, small publishers, and self-published authors. For the most part they are pre-pub, but there’s no set rule for when a book can go up on NetGalley. They are for review, and not purchase and consumption directly on the site.”

In the case of NetGalley, the fee to the rights holder is not paid in any way to the reviewer, it is instead paid to keep the site in operation. But other representatives from companies like Chanticleer Book Reviews & Media and Kirkus Reviews spoke about the importance of quality reviews from vetted sources, even if those reviews come at a cost. While paid book reviews continue to be a hotly contested issue among authors and readers alike, panelists Kiffer Brown (Chanticleer) and Eric Liebetrau (Kirkus) explained the difference between an honest review from a long-standing publishing industry entity, and the option to pay an individual in exchange for a “good” review.

One of the topics covered at the event were the inherent ineffectiveness of blog tours, especially in the climate where anyone with a blog can charge money for arranging blog tours among their friends, regardless of how appropriate various blogs are for a particular title, the high or low Alexa ranking for those blogs, and more. Stauch spoke at length about what other options authors have when planning a virtual tour, as well as key tips to look for in online promotion where users’ sites are concerned.

Peer reviews were highlighted as a valuable tool for authors, especially through sites like Goodreads, despite some of the recent difficulties users have found in trusting the reviews found on the site due to its terms of service. BooksILove, a free app for book reviewing and discovery, is another option for reviewing titles, but with a lot less intensive involvement.

The second half of the panel focused on the feasibility and benefits of finding book clubs to read an author’s work, not just in terms of sales to the participants, but also for the buzz and word-of-mouth aspects of being a book club selection. Lynn Bettancourt of Savannah Bound to Please runs a book club with both live and virtual participants numbering over 300 members, and spoke about the ability of authors to reach out to groups with their titles.

Recordings of the panels from the PubSmartCon will be made available soon.

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One of the more crowded panels at the recent PubSmartCon was the Bowker-sponsored panel, Discoverability in the Digital Age, a session which addressed the increasingly difficult task authors face–both traditionally published and self-published–in finding an audience for their works. With independent bookstores closing at an alarming rate and even libraries facing door-shuttering budget cuts, authors have lost a lot of the champions who once sold books by hand, who knew the titles on their store shelves and recommended them to their customers. Coupled with the influx of content as new books are published daily, quality material can still languish without a reader to find it.

One of the recommendations for authors in attendance was to begin the marketing three to six months before the anticipated release date, something that still takes place in the traditional industry. Whether it’s through the author’s own social media and website or through joint promotion and virtual word of mouth, the time to generate that all-important buzz is well before it makes its way to market.

Panelist Tarah Theoret of NetGalley spoke on the ability for self-published authors to generate advanced reader copies and galleys of their books through CreateSpace by simply building a copyedited version of the book and ordering a set number of proofs. This can not only provide reviews to be posted upon the release, but can also give the author feedback from willing and concerned participants. Digital galleys are also secure ways to inexpensively share copies prior to release.

“Not all discovery is equal. Study after study has shown that eighty percent of books are discovered through word of mouth from trusted friends,” explained Elizabeth Dimarco from BooksILove. “That other twenty percent is not to be disregarded though.” BooksILove designed a discovery tool app that people can use while actively having conversations about books by accessing the app on their smartphones or devices. “What we discovered is that recommendations aren’t meant to be done in isolation.”

Dimarco stated that avid book readers not only recommend books to their friends, but they also want feedback at a later time on what those friends ultimately decided about those books, or whether they read them at all.

In a lunchtime keynote address, Hugh Howey explained that the loss of physical bookstores has done more harm for discovery than any glut of self-published titles could ever do. He recounted his days working in a bookstore and recalled the many times he physically pointed to a particular book by way of recommendation to a consumer. With the continued loss of these recommendation engines, authors are having to do more work to stay relevant and be noticed among other authors.

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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.