Archive for Indie Author News
What began life as a wishful what-if exchange on Twitter has now grown into a full-blown authors’ program from one of the US’s dominant railway companies, Amtrak. When two writers exchanged a few tweets about the joy they could derive from riding a passenger train and writing away the miles, Amtrak jumped in and made it a reality, at least for the one tweeting.
Now, more details have come out about the potential for Amtrak to offer a train writing program to more authors. According to Ben Cosman for TheWire:
“Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s Director of Social Media, did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit today to discuss the company’s writer’s residency program. According to Quinn, Amtrak is still “formalizing” the official program, but she did offer a few new details.
- An online application process will go online some time in the next few days.
- Amtrak hopes to begin the official program this spring.
- Amtrak will use a panel comprised of individuals from Amtrak and the literary community to review resident applications.
- Applications will be evaluated on a rolling basis.
- Writers’ residencies will last 2-5 days, according to Quinn.
- Amtrak wants residents on each of its 15 long-distance routes.”
While Amtrak hasn’t made it clear what the actual definition of a writer would be for this type of residency program, even more details are expected in the near future. This type of program, even if no longer offered for free but rather at a significant discount, stands to not only be a tremendous PR move for the company, but can also fill up some of the empty seats on various routes, especially if authors are able to be as flexible in their travel dates as they are in their writing schedules.
It still makes headlines whenever a self-published author manages to sell one million copies, or makes a major bestseller list. for some self-published authors, that level of success is actually a cumulative total of all of their titles, but it’s still quite a big deal. EL James might disagree. News came out this week that the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy–admittedly all three books in the series combined–have now sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.
To be fair to the authors who are selling a “paltry” million or so, James was picked up by a traditional publisher and the books relaunched under Vintage Books’ imprint. Additionally, the titles have been translated into fifty-one languages for distribution in foreign markets, not taking into consideration the countries where English language titles sell rather well.
But what does it take to make a one-time Twilight fan fiction series that is still treated with such scornful, humorous consideration by the public into a global bestseller, with a major studio film adaptation in the works? Awesome marketing.
Beginning with the first efforts at publishing the books herself, James built a fan base around a work that was arguably unlike much else on the market. Once the series was invested in by a major publishing house, the author’s work didn’t stop. Successful and bestselling indie authors will share that same mentality with anyone who asks for the secret to their success: reader engagement is vital to selling books.
In last Tuesday’s Twitter chat #indiechat, hosted each week by BiblioCrunch, author Hugh Howey made an appearance to discuss the finer points of putting a well-crafted book in front of a broader reading audience. Besides sharing his post on advice for new authors, Howey made the statement: “I write in the morning. After lunch, I treat the publishing bits like my day job. I often work 16 hours a day.”
This attention to the business side of being an author is what sets apart those who sell books and grow a fan base, and those who don’t. Sadly, one of the business aspects that is becoming more and more clear–especially to authors who’ve handled it badly, like Lynn Shepherd, who has recently been accused of petty jealousy due to the fact that her traditionally published titles are not selling as much as many self-published authors’ works–is that authors must take on the responsibility for their own marketing. Regardless of the publishing route, crafting a work that readers want to read and then actively talking with them about that book is becoming more the norm.
Every time the dust settles on the most recent examples of author bullying and reviewer bashing, something occurs that makes headlines again, thus starting the firestorm all over again. In this case, the news is that anti-bullying champion and bestselling author Anne Rice is one of approximately one thousand names on a petition to Amazon, demanding that they strip away the anonymity on their site that allows these alleged bullies to prey on authors.
What is more interesting than the same battle that has been circulating since groups on Goodreads and a grassroots effort called Stop The Goodreads Bullies first began waging organized warfare on authors or reviewers is that Rice is no casual observer of the issue. Apart from lending her famous name to the petition by signing, Rice has posted a fair amount of commentary on the issue on her Facebook page, much of it in response to people who are taking the argument–and their derision of the issue–to the comments section of her page.
“I’m optimistic. I think we will achieve something good here with our protest,” wrote Rice in response to one commenter. “And I will continue to draw attention to the petition. I see no reason ever to accept bullies as a part of life we can’t change…Systems evolve. We can change things in this world for the better. I will never accept evil or injustice as just the status quo.”
While some commenters went on to scoff at the “fruitlessness” of asking Amazon to step in on this behavior, others went to the length of attempting to discredit a somewhat-controversial group that Rice openly supported in her post, Stop The Goodreads Bullies. Like the supporters of the petition, Rice feels that requiring verification at log in will go far in stopping the abuse in reviews, much in the way that author Lynn Shepherd’s books have come under attack for her pointless and poorly planned essay railing against JK Rowling.
“To get back to the essence of the problem;” wrote Rice on her timeline, “if Amazon will revise its policy on anonymity the problem will be helped greatly. These gangster bullies rely on anonymity for their multiple screen names, and their underhanded voting tactics. They could not [do] the same level of damage to others if they had to use their own names.”
Exciting new uses for digital publishing are taking place every day, whether it’s standard digital editions of text-based books or enhanced academic titles with embedded video. Now, a company called stories etc is bringing a new functionality to the digital space by helping families create lasting memories through ebooks.
stories etc. is an e-memoir app powered by Pubsoft that enables anyone to create a powerful tool for recording and sharing the stories through web-based reading that make bonds stronger.
“People think their grandparents had great stories—but they don’t realize that their grandchildren will think they had amazing stories too,” said Patrick Talley, founder of stories etc., in a press release. “That’s why people need a simple way to preserve and share all the stories that future generations will cherish. We’ve made the app simple and fun. My 84-year-old mother is already picking questions, recording her answers and creating her ebook all from her iPhone or iPad. We’re changing the way that family history is created and shared.”
Part of the allure of the platform is the ability to easily create video and audio recordings–of older generations of the family, for example–and embed those in a narrative text before sharing the ebook with others through Pubsoft’s HTML5 capabilities.
“stories etc. demonstrates the adaptability of Pubsoft for different publishing projects,” said Dougal Cameron, COO at Pubsoft. “We’ve built a comprehensive publishing platform that can handle ebook creation, marketing, direct sales, distribution and analytics, and now we’re seeing how innovative apps like stories etc. can take several Pubsoft tools to offer a unique e-memoir engine. We’re excited to help stories etc transform family memories into timeless ebooks.”
The app that powers the platform is currently available for iPhone and iPad, allowing the portability of recording important families stories and events without the hassle of extensive setups.
A lot of focus in the publishing industry lately has centered around the need for more sales data for authors in order to let them exert more control over their writing careers. Until very recently, that data was closely guarded by retailers and unavailable even anecdotally to other authors. A series of surveys by different sources have given authors and publishers at least a glimpse of how book sales are faring, but of course the information is incomplete.
Vook, an eBook developer and distributor, announced today the launch of its newest author-centric tool, aptly named Author Control. This program, which is free for authors to track the 2013-to-present sales of up to ten titles, uses major retailers’ databases to give rights holders a clear picture of how their titles are selling across different markets. Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, CreateSpace, Apple, and other retailers are included, as is OverDrive, placing important data in one single location for authors to track and check on their sales activity.
One feature of this tool that stands to eliminate a major reason that increasing numbers of authors are choosing self-publishing is the ability for even traditionally or small press published authors to use this tool. Essentially, the publisher will set up their accounts with their authors titles and retail distribution platforms, then be able to isolate each author so that they can only see their data. With Author Control, there is no reason for a publisher to not give its authors daily access to their sales data, rather than making them continue to wait for quarterly sales reports.
While sales data is the only real information available at this point, other features are already in the works, including rankings, ratings, reviews, and more. For now, Author Control provides nearly instantaneous updates on the data.
Matt Cavnar from Vook spoke to Good e-Reader this morning about today’s launch, as well as the possibilities for this tool based on author feedback from their dashboards.
“We want to give our authors one place to get every piece of data on their books. We pull what’s in the retailers now, and every four days our system will go back and recheck. That’s when the sellers themselves restate the data, so you’ll see our system continually being updated with the audited sales data.”
Some of the data is supplemented through existing channels that help follow the sales of books. According to a press release issued by Vook, Beat Barblan, Director, Identifier Services, Bowker, a ProQuest Affiliate, said, “One of Bowker’s key objectives is to provide authors with quality services and products at prices that deliver high value. We expect our business partners to subscribe to the same standards and to share our value of putting the customer first. In Vook we have found an ideal partner. Our customers tell us Vook’s service is fast, efficient, and excellent, and that its staff is among the most responsive and customer friendly anywhere.”
In terms of what authors really need in order to control their writing careers, initiatives like this help provide tools for authors who intend on taking an active role in the business side of being writers.
“Our goal is to provide authors with what they actually need, and we’re going to learn that by actually working with real people.”
Pioneering self-publishing and ebook distribution site Smashwords made an announcement for all of its member authors and publishers today that tomorrow kicks off a week-long promotional event for books. Dubbed Read and eBook Week, a campaign that runs from March 2nd through 8th, the event offers authors the opportunity to reach out to readers with promotional pricing on their books for one week only.
While the marketing stands to benefit authors, Smashwords really bills the event as intended for readers, calling it “one week of unadulterated ebook gluttony.” Consumers will benefit from slashed prices on thousands of ebooks, and authors can take advantage of the promotion to extend their reader base.
Besides the option to promote their books, authors can receive hints and tips, banners and badges for their websites, and listing in the eBook Week catalog of special discounts. To sign up, authors need only log into their Smashwords accounts and click HERE.
Self-publishing is a polarizing topic in the publishing world. There is no denying that the sheer amount of titles has dramatically increased in recent years. The average bestseller list on the New York Times, or Amazon normally has 3-4 indie titles in the top 25. One of the side effects of more people self-publishing is the sheer number of people preying on them.
Self-published books made up a tiny proportion – 2% – of all books purchased last year, this figure increases dramatically, to 12%, when print books are removed from the equation. When we look back at 2012 there were 391,000 indie ebooks published, up 59% over 2011 and 422% over 2007. Ebooks continue to gain on print, comprising 40% of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11% in 2007.
When it comes to publishing a digital book yourself, there are a myriad of daunting barriers. How exactly do you formulate a proper table of contents? How do you convert the your book from Word to EPUB or to a Kindle friendly format? What is the industry standard for line spacing, font types or margins? What is the average cover art size for Apple iBooks, or Barnes and Noble? Aside from just writing your book, you could spend months formatting it correctly to self-publish, if you never had to do it before. Not willing to learn, or to cut corners is prompting predatory behavior from publishing companies, vanity presses and unscrupulous review companies.
One of the biggest boogeymen of the publishing world to prey on writers is Author Solutions. They are billed as a ”self-publishing” company currently doing business with several major publishers, while acting more like a severely abusive vanity press than an actual self-publishing service. They company has assembled a stable of “self-publishing” and print-on-demand services, including Author House, xlibris, iUniverse and Trafford. Other publishers have outsourced self-publishing work to ASI under a variety of names.
Author Solutions tends to charge authors a few thousand dollars to digitize and print their eBook. There is no editing or copyrighting, those are extra. When a book does not sell well, aggressive telemarketers try and upsell authors to bigger packages. Things are so bad that three authors have filed suit, airing a laundry list of complaints and alleging the company is engaged in deceitful, dubious business practices. “Defendants have marketed themselves as an independent publisher with a reputation for outstanding quality and impressive book sales,” the complaint reads. “Instead, Defendants are not an independent publisher, but a print-on-demand vanity press.”
This is just one particular company, but there are hundreds of them out there. Once your book is written, it is time to promote it. This is where the predators such as Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly come in. They have starter packages where you can pay them $800 to write an impartial review of the book, to use on marketing material. Often, once you do that they try and upsell you on banner advertising on their website, running some authors a cool $8,000.
If you are looking to find a company to assist you in writing, digitizing or selling the book for you, there are a number of resources out there. Preditors & Editors is a resource website geared towards the serious writer. They say that their “aim is to assist.” If you click on Book Publisher Listings, you will find an alphabetical list of hundreds of traditional publishers, self-publishing companies, and vanity presses. If Preditors & Editors has received complaints about a company, this will be noted in red type after the company listing. These warnings might simply say, “Not recommended,” or “Subsidy press, not recommended,” or “Charges fee. Writer complaints. Not recommended,” or even “Poor contract. Strongly not recommended.”
I have talked to thousands of indie authors over the years and most of them want to continue to write and their books are not often one-offs. If a writer wants to make a living off of their writing, they should learn how to do it themselves. Understanding the semantics of cover art design, table of contents, proper formatting and knowing where to distribute will help you more then simply relying on someone to hold your hand and hope for the best. In this life, the only person you can truly trust is yourself and you owe it to yourself, to not be let down.
Have you been scammed by a self-publishing company or got a weird email? Sound off below.
It’s been quite a month for the publishing industry. We could actually argue that 2014 has already been quite a year for publishing, but truth be told, we’d have to be really honest and say that the 21st century has really had some fun with publishing. We’ve seen mergers between major publishing houses, intense growth at the world’s largest ebook retailer, daily rumors threatening the demise of another ebook retailer, and finally, a great coup among authors who are tired of the cloak-and-dagger mentality to the business side of books.
And while the household names of self-publishing continue to make headlines and progress, there are a number of authors who just like to do what they do best: write and publish books that thrill their fans. Dubbed by his fellow authors as one of the hardest working writers in publishing (with no less than ten books written, edited, and published per year), Russell Blake spoke to Good e-Reader about what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s going on in publishing.
“The traditional publishing system, for all of its flaws, is a lottery. For every thousand people that submit, maybe two will get picked up by an agent. Then add another thousand agented authors to it, there’s only a few slots every year in each genre for a new author. The odds are pretty terrible as an author of making anything.If you do get your advance, it’s going to be in the five to ten grand range, spread out over three years. How is that a good deal?
“The vast majority of authors are working day jobs…but if you look at the implications [of self-publishing], a lot more authors are able to earn a living wage, if you will, than five or ten years ago.”
Even though the book industry’s seemingly archaic ways are often compared unfavorably to that of the music industry when it comes to the selling of digital content, Blake likened the system of selecting the “next big thing” to the way that record companies often chose the next artist.
“You would find a hundred artists, give them each $100 grand worth of studio time and one music video, then you would throw all one hundred acts kind of out there and see which one or two began breaking big. And that one or two got all hype and media attention, and the other ninety-eight failed, and went nowhere. The large publishing business is like the record business: they’re great once something is breaking, but they’re kind of terrible at knowing what’s gonna break next. That’s the shotgun approach that traditional publishing has taken.”
Blake is one of the growing crowd of authors who’s come to realize that this broken model stands in the way of creating dynamic content for readers, earning a livelihood, and the basic principle of enjoying the writing process. His personal formula for writing and publishing through platforms like CreateSpace for his print editions and online platforms for ebooks has resulted in twenty-five books on the bestseller list, featured articles in the Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers, and a book co-written with Clive Cussler, to be published later this year.
“You can make a living, and for some authors a very good living, just writing what you want in your voice. That’s amazing, that’s never happened before.”
Authors might find inspiration in some really unique places. Many writers have their favorite writing “spots,” places where they are distraction free and the muse just speaks. Others plan writers’ retreats where they can take their supplies to a new location and write during a planned time frame. Now, a new dimension in the writer’s retreat concept is not only captivating to a number of authors, but also a great PR move in the form of free offerings.
Amtrak, at the request via Twitter of a writer, has established free writers’ retreats that let authors write while riding the rails in a roundtrip journey. The romanticism of train travel coupled with the lure of working in a space that doesn’t have the daily interferences that many working people face is a great chance to accomplish a lot.
What started out as a tongue-in-cheek Twitter exchange between Jessica Gross and Zach Seward morphed into reality when Amtrak saw their tweets and offered them the first writer’s residency aboard one of their trains, offering them free roundtrip travel to Chicago. The success of the concept has led Amtrak to now consider expanding the idea into a more widespread offering, with the goal of still keeping it free or low-cost.
Massive change is being sparked in the publishing industry, thanks to the enterprising–and exhausting–work of authors who’ve taken it upon themselves to share sales information with the intention of helping authors make informed decisions where publishing opportunities are involved. Authors like HM Ward and Hugh Howey have been as transparent as they can be about their own sales and publishing opportunities in order to present a clearer picture of what publishing looks like in 2014.
Now, AuthorEarnings.com has released its report on Barnes and Noble activity where Nook Press sales are concerned. The data, which can be found HERE, highlights the percentages of bestselling titles that were published via both traditional and self-publishing routes, as well as small press and indie press houses. This report indicates that, of the top 5,000 ebooks in the Nook store, self-published bestselling titles made up more than half of the bestsellers.
The report goes on to breakdown the data for both authors and consumers, with the ultimate goal remaining affording people in the industry to make the informed decisions. Working solely on presumptions and unfounded theories about how self-published titles fare–both for better or for worse–doesn’t help anyone.
The industry as whole and in all its manifestations needs to adopt an air of openness and transparency that other industries have already made standard. Unfortunately, data like these reports, while vital to informed business practices for both authors and publishers, may eventually result in greater access to accurate sales data, but for now are only drawing ire from the industry’s critics.
Digital publishing has arguably opened more doors to publication than any other innovation since Guttenberg’s press, but there are still segments of the writing population for whom publishing is still virtually off-limits. Sadly, it’s not only geographical or language barriers that stops authors from reaching wider audiences with their work, sometimes it is actual, tangible, physical barriers.
Pubsoft, the publishing solutions provider that is opening up new tools and features for authors and publishers, announced a deal today with Vidahlia Press to enable incarcerated inmates to publish their works.
“We’re glad to assist Vidahlia with their INK Prison Writing Contest by providing software that helped them achieve their operational and social goals,” said Pubsoft Marketing Director Heather Wied in a press release on the partnership. “Their mission of identifying and rewarding talent within the corrections system is admirable. The Pubsoft system will serve as a delivery mechanism for the anthology that will be one of the final results of the writing contest, and we’re excited about helping Vidahlia provide a voice for individuals who are often overlooked by society.”
“We want Vidahlia Press & Publishing House to be the voice of prison literary talent worldwide, and collaborating with Pubsoft is a terrific way to reach our readership to share these incredible stories,” continued Roy J. Rodney Jr., President, founder, and principal investor. “We plan to continue reader engagement through various events and contests, and through a collection of electronic products, multi-media products, music, video game treatments, magazines, catalogs, gifts, and collectibles.”
Vidahlia has previously announced its INK writing contest that opens the doors to publication and readership to inmates. Using Pubsoft’s publishing engine, Vidahlia can help those authors who don’t have the reach their voices need move forward in order to be heard.
For the past several years, social reading has been an undercurrent of the possibilities of digital publishing and ebooks. A number of companies have been launched since as early as 2010 to encourage readers with tools that make it easy to share in the discussion of a book across their social networks–and even with strangers–within the digital pages of a book. Companies like Copia have kept the focus more squarely fixed on the educational opportunities that social reading presents, such as allowing students around the world and professors at different institutions to all come together within the ebook to foster discussion and understanding; at the same time, companies like Readmill just enjoy the possibilities of connecting readers of fiction titles in what amounts to almost a virtual book club.
Now, Hong Kong-based self-publishing platform Towerbabel is furthering not only digital reading and enjoyment of ebooks, but has built its platform to also be a collaboration tool for authors, editors, designers, and artists, while also helping participants engage in social writing. The platform enables different writers to all participate in the same story, an especially intriguing idea for alternate ending and science fiction fans.
“Ebooks shouldn’t just be a retelling of text,” explained Anthony Chan in an interview with Good e-Reader. “More interactive storytelling can happen in an ebook.”
Through Towerbabel’s 30,000-strong user base and social media reach, a number of stories have already been drafted with the help of collaboration. Of course, readers are also welcome to discover single-author books to read, and authors are invited to submit their stand alone titles through the platform. For those who want to experiment with the collaboration, the write pad tool is available through the platform.
When looking at how a process such as this one compares to a well-known and heavily trafficked site like Wattpad, it’s important to remember the intention. Wattpad‘s newest update allows readers to discuss authors’ works while they are still in progress, but the major focus is still connecting readers and writers; Towerbabel is looking to actively build writing and publishing collaboration in one secure location.
“We built a writing pad on our platform and we’re getting a following from more and more authors as we foster collaboration. We want to focus on these collaborations to let people work out the book together and let different writers co-write a book.”
In an interesting chain of events, ebook retailers’ crackdown on erotica titles that were mislabeled as children’s content–intentionally or not–led to another crackdown of sorts. During the process of examining the titles in their online stores more carefully, retailers like Amazon enforced an existing aspect of their terms and conditions that prohibits using famous book titles in the keyword search for unrelated books. For example, a particular self-published memoir about high school was threatened with removal from Amazon’s store due to the presence of the title The Hunger Games in the keyword search, an attempt to make the book more visible as consumers looked for Suzanne Collins’ bestseller.
While that practice is shady enough, a new phenomenon has cropped up in the race for book discovery: using authors’ actual names. Readers who were thrilled to purchase bestselling author Jack Higgins’ latest thriller title were instead treated to fairly lousy erotica.
Higgins, a well-known author who’s seen several of his titles adapted for film, suddenly had new books appear on his Amazon author page. Sadly, the reviewers took to the books to voice their discontent with the books, horrified that the quality of writing and the story line was not what they were used to from the author.
This new money making scheme is certainly not the first time that a thoughtless scammer has tried to make a quick buck off the back of someone famous, but unfortunately the industry reaction seems to be blaming digital publishing and self-publishing. Great literary hoaxes existed long before ebooks were born, but this situation makes self-published authors as a whole look bad, a fact that critics are happy to point out.
Higgins’ author page has been restored to reflect that he is not associated with these underhanded files (calling them books at this point would be painful), and the speed with which that repair took place is something for which even critics can be grateful to the digital era.