Using eBook Retailers for Distribution

Blog 60 ImageIn my last two posts under the category How To Self-Publish, I’ve given an overview of distributing a self-published book and discussed direct sales of eBooks by website or social media. This post is about the distribution channel most self-published writers use to sell their books: eBook retailers.

With an eBook retailer, a self-published writer uploads files of her book and cover to an online platform that sells thousands of traditionally and other self-published books. The platform gives readers a secure payment environment and simple downloading of the writer’s book to an e-reader, tablet or other device. The writer and retailer share the purchase price. Per book, the writer usually gets much more than if a traditional publisher was selling her book.

The concept came to the fore in 2007 when Amazon began selling Kindle devices to download books and other written materials. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) was set up so that self-published books could also be downloaded.

Since then:

  • Many other eBook platforms that sell self-published books have emerged, including Apple’s iBookstore, Google Play and Kobo.
  • EBook distributors like Smashwords have also emerged, offering a central point for a writer to upload her book for many of the eBook retailers, other than KDP.
  • Many readers now use tablets, phones and even PCs to read eBooks instead of dedicated e-readers like Kindles. The books are often read on free apps like Kindle for iOS.

Self-published writers, then, have a variety of eBook retailers to choose from and must imagine readers accessing their content in different ways. Unfortunately, the eBook retailer marketplace is fragmented, and the details and mechanics of the various platforms require tenacity to master.

A detailed comparison of eBook retailers is beyond the scope of this post. An excellent resource is Ape: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book by Kawasaki and Welch. Instead, I’m going to outline the considerations I found important in choosing between eBook retailers. Maybe they’ll make the choice easier for other self-published fiction writers.

  • KDP is important. Everything I read says that KDP is dominant or very significant in the markets where I want to sell eBooks of The Case for Killing and False Guilt: Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. Readers know to go to Amazon to buy books and are drawn by the thousands of other products on offer. Customers give, and value, book reviews on Amazon. For writers, the KDP site may be a bit old and clunky, but there’s excellent support and writers keep 70% of royalties for books between $2.99 and $9.99 (U.S.). I know that Amazon’s might bothers many people but I figured my eBooks just had to be available on Amazon through KDP.
  • Readers don’t need a Kindle. This decision was made easier by the fact that readers buying my eBooks from Amazon don’t need to have a Kindle. They can read the books using the free Kindle app available for most devices.
  • I like simple and KDP Select. Having decided I needed to be on Amazon through KDP, the question became what other eBook retailers to use. This was the hardest decision.
    • I knew that some readers simply wouldn’t buy my eBooks through Amazon. For example, they might read eBooks only on a Kobo device, which doesn’t read Kindle files, or simply prefer to buy through Apple platforms.
    • However, I also knew I wanted to put my time toward writing and promoting, and not managing too many eBook distribution platforms. I also was interested in KDP Select, in which an eBook is offered exclusively through KDP. In return, the eBook is eligible for special promotional capabilities such as discounts for specified periods and is included in the recent Kindle Unlimited subscription service.
    • In the end, I thought KDP Select offered me sufficient reach for eBook sales. I’m only aware of one sale I’ve lost by not joining other platforms.
  • Arranging print copies has priority. More important, I think, than worrying about how many eBook retailers to use is ensuring that readers can buy print copies of my books at bookstores and on Amazon. That’s a topic for another blog.

Other considerations will be more important to different writers and the considerations will change over time. Every self-published writer will have to spend some time researching the eBook retailer options when she publishes and periodically after.

Right now, simple is better for me. We’ll see what I decide when the next book is ready.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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False Guilt: At the Funeral

I think of what follows as a short “sequel-prequel” to my book, False Guilt, because it fits between the first and second parts.

Blog 59 ImageBetween the minister’s sombre sentences, one of the wooden doors of Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church thumped shut. Paul turned to look from the front pew and caught his breath. Grace had appeared, five minutes late for the funeral service. She slunk into a back row and sat alone.

An hour later, Paul had helped carry the casket to the hearse and his duties were done. The burial was for family only. He stood on the front steps of the church and pushed a hand through his hair. He wondered if he was doing the right thing waiting for her.

It didn’t take long to find out. Her tall, slim body was one of the last to exit the church. As soon as she saw him, Grace stopped under the arch. Caution, not pleasure, crossed her face.

A surge of May air cleared some strands of black hair. “Hello,” she said.

“I saw you,” he said, clearing his throat. “From the front row. I just wanted to say hello.”

“I just beat you to it,” she said, testing a smile. “How have you been?”

“Oh, busy. With law school and stuff. But second year’s finished now.”

“How did it go?” she asked.

He shrugged. “They still haven’t told me yet. You been busy, too?”

“Very, yes. With dance and work and stuff.” She paused. “I was going to call you back. But I knew you had exams.”

“Of course,” Paul said. “That was very considerate of you.” He felt his face flushing red.

“This is all so tragic,” Grace continued, glancing for a second beyond the front lawn at traffic. “And you knew him a lot better than me.”

“I guess. This whole thing is like a bad movie that won’t stop. And for a guy who always made things work for him. At least until recently.”

“I just hope they find out who did it, really soon.”

“Me, too.” He looked down and pawed the step he stood on. “So, I was wondering, you know, now that I’m done with school, if I could see you again. I enjoyed the time we had coffee.”

“I did, too,” she said. “But I might have some travel plans.”

“Oh, I see, sure,” he said, pawing again. “Well, let me come right out and ask, because, to be honest, I’ve been thinking about you a lot.” He cleared his throat again. “Do you—do you have any interest in me?”

He wanted to say more. That he’d yearned for her since their coffee and intimacy six weeks earlier. That he was sure there could be a connection. That even the menace of the past several days hadn’t changed those feelings.

But her eyes held pity.

“I really did have a nice time with you, Paul,” she said. “It’s just not the right time for me now.”

She began to walk down the steps. He touched one of her forearms. “Are you sure?” he asked.

A hint of impatience joined the pity. She sighed and bit her lower lip. “And I just don’t feel the passion,” she added.

Gutted, his hand fell to his side. He was certain he would never see her again.

But fifteen years later, at the funeral of another friend, he would.

And she would feel differently.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Should writers watch word count?

Blog 58 ImageA recent Microsoft study concludes that the average human attention span has fallen from twelve seconds to eight since 2000. Apparently that’s less than the attention span of a goldfish. I’ll try to keep this post short.

I’m not a fan of proclaiming rules that writers need to follow in order to write a book and get some readers. But I have been wondering if, in a digital age with falling attention span, fiction writers should try to keep their books within a word count range. For example, I often read that thrillers should be 80,000–120,000 words. Here are some things to consider.

Readers are busy and have enormous content choice. These realities are obvious but they account for the declining human attention span. And I think writers ignore them at their peril. For example, a thriller writer should ensure that his book has a strong opening, good pacing and crisp writing.

A writer needs to keep his genre in mind. Readers of genres like mysteries, thrillers and romance have expectations about the length of the books they read. They can be convinced to read longer books but writers should be sure they have the goods to do it.

What is the writer trying to give the readers? The main goal of my books, The Case for Killing and False Guilt, is to entertain readers for a weekend. I hope the books offer the occasional human insight as well, but they’re thrillers, not literary fiction. A weekend is a precious amount of time these days, so I look to keep my books around 95,000 words.

What does your publisher want? For books of traditionally published authors, the publishing house will have ideas what word count the market prefers.

Books should be ruthlessly edited. Using fewer words for the same effect often leads to better writing and pace. In later edits of my books, I get cruel satisfaction from pulling out words. Especially adverbs.

Word count isn’t the be all and end all, of course. A really engaging book, especially with extraordinary writing, will hook readers regardless of length. But I do think that modern realities should drive a writer to keep an eye on how many words he’s written. And the added benefit is that he’ll likely produce a better book. Watching word count compels a writer to ensure that every word counts.

P.S. I thought about reading the Microsoft report, but it’s fifty-four pages long.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

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Publishing Contracts: Promises to the Writer

Blog 57 ImageIn my last blog about a first-time writer choosing between traditional publishing and self-publishing, I had a look at copyright in a fiction manuscript. This has set me up for two blogs about traditional publishing contracts, which only writers working with publishing houses will have.

Today’s post is a broad overview of the promises made to a writer in a traditional publishing contract. The next post in this series will be about the promises a writer makes, that is, a writer’s obligations.

First, though, I need to give some important cautions.

  • My posts are not intended as legal advice and shouldn’t be relied on as such. They’re for general information.
  • Contract laws vary by jurisdiction.
  • Contract terms vary according to jurisdiction and negotiations.

So, if you’re a first-time writer considering signing a publisher’s contract, you must get advice from a lawyer qualified to review the contract.

I don’t have a traditional publishing contract but I reviewed some standard forms and looked at materials from The Writers’ Union of Canada. It reminded me that a contract can have a long life. So a writer needs to negotiate her best deal before signing, or at least fully understand what she’s getting and giving.

In a traditional publishing contract, the most fundamental thing a writer gives to the publisher is the right, or the grant of a licence, to publish her book, in written and probably eBook form. In Canada, The Copyright Act expressly gives the owner of copyright this ability. I’ll have more to say about the extent of the licence to publish in the next post but, likely, the publisher will want broad rights and the writer will want to retain as much as she can.

So what are the main promises a writer gets in return? Again, contract terms will vary but here are some of terms a writer might see.

Obligation to Publish: A publisher generally commits to publishing the writer’s book in a time period like twelve or eighteen months from delivery of the manuscript or signing of the contract. If the publisher doesn’t do this, the contract should end and the writer keep any advance. However, this promise of the publisher likely will be subject to warning periods and events beyond the publisher’s control. Also, if the publisher has broad rights to deem a manuscript unacceptable, a writer has really only optioned her book.

Royalties: These are calculated as a percentage of some measure of revenue from the book. The writer should get outside advice to determine whether the offered percentages and revenue measures for hardcover, trade paperback and eBooks are the standard ones.

Advances: A publishing contract often gives a writer an advance on royalties, paid in instalments at different stages before the writer completes her manuscript. This can be an important source of income for a writer. My general understanding is that advances for first-time writers occasionally are still sizable but that, more and more, they’re shrinking.

Termination Rights: Hopefully the writer’s book sells and the commercial relationship between the writer and publishing house continues for a while. However, circumstances can arise where either party wants to terminate the agreement, with the result that the rights the writer has granted the publisher revert to her.

The contract should give the writer the ability to demand the reversion of rights after warning periods if the publisher hasn’t met its obligation to publish or make royalty payments, or when the book is out of print. How “out of print” is defined can become very important. For example, is it loosely based on availability or something more specific like sales, and how is eBook availability taken into account?

A writer will also want rights to revert automatically if a publisher becomes bankrupt.

Approvals: The contract can give the writer the right to consent to changes in her manuscript and its title, and possibly also to consent to the publisher’s cover design and to grants of subsidiary rights in her book such as translations.

Marketing and Promotion: A writer is attracted to a traditional publisher for its promotional power. My review suggested that publishers avoid contractual promises about marketing and promotion.

No Assignment: The writer is expecting to work with the publisher she’s chosen. The contract should say the publisher cannot assign the contract without her consent.

To summarize, a traditional publishing contract is a potentially long-term arrangement with real, but fairly narrow, promises to the writer. So while that contract gives a writer key protections, ensuring she’s chosen a publishing house with the proper record of success for her type of manuscript is much more important.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Direct Sales of EBooks

Blog 56In my last post in the category How to Self-Publish, I said I’d blog about channels a self-published writer can use to distribute her book.

Today I’m writing about direct sales platforms like Gumroad, Ganxy and Sellfy. They allow a writer to sell eBooks on her website or through links attached to social media or messages.

The Challenge. From the start, self-published writers have thought of letting readers download their books from their websites and keeping 100% of the price. But hold on. It’s not so easy.

  • Buyers want to buy an eBook in one or two clicks and download it without problems.
  • They want to choose between various secure payment methods.
  • They want confirmations and people to contact if there’s a problem.
  • Most writers have neither the time, interest nor expertise to set that all up.
  • There can be complex rules around collecting sales tax.

The Direct Sales Model. So, in exchange for fees, direct sales platforms provide a quick, secure download and payment environment to buy an eBook. The writer uploads her book and cover, and can offer her eBook on her website or using a URL attached to emails or social media content.

The fees a writer pays to sell eBooks on a direct sales platform vary by provider. Gumroad takes 5% of sales plus $0.25 per transaction, which generally will be less than a writer pays for selling with an eBook retailer. For example, Kindle usually keeps 30% of an eBook’s price.

The Problems: So why don’t all self-pub writers use direct selling arrangements? Here are some reasons I know of.

  • These days, any writer has to market her eBook. But the burden is especially high if she uses a direct sales platform. She must drive readers to her website, social media and messages to sell eBooks.
  • Many readers searching for an author’s eBook will instinctively go to an eBook retailer like Amazon/Kindle. If they don’t find the book there, they’ll stop looking.
  • EBook retailers have other ways to drive sales such as customer reviews, sales rankings, free book promotions and subscription services.
  • Writers can be left handling customer service issues like steering a reader to the proper file type for his device.
  • Many direct sales sites are geared to selling eBooks only. However, as I blogged last time, many readers still prefer reading print copies of books, which a self-pub writer can offer through eBook retailers.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.