“As an industry, we need to innovate…”

I met up with Brian Feinblum, the creator and author of BookMarketingBuzzBlog, at BookExpo America in New York. Brian, who is the chief marketing officer for the nation's largest book promotions firm, Media Connect (www.Media-Connect.com), has been involved in book publicity and marketing since 1989. We had a great conversation about the publishing industry, WaveCloud and the future of books.  Read a bit of our discussion on Brian’s blog and let me know what you think!

Our “media loungers” were a huge hit at BEA last week. Thanks to everyone who stopped by the booth to say hello and learn about WaveCloud.

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Digital Natives and DRM: Why You Should be Paying Attention

The issue of DRM and DRM-free is not something that I was too familiar with before looking into it for this post. I understood the basic ideas of DRM but I was unaware as to how much it affected readership. In case you are not clear on DRM yourself, Digital Rights Management (DRM) is what publishers use to keep tabs on their digital content. Many readers find it limiting and want to get rid of it while proponents say it’s necessary for combating piracy. However it doesn’t take an expert to know that in this day and age, no matter what limitations you put on something, it will still be pirated.

Interestingly enough, there has recently been a move by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) to create a middle ground as a standard across the industry. This would be a lighter version of the traditional DRM, something closer to the “watermarking” that some publishers such as Pottermore.com have started to use. Watermarking is even less restrictive than the newly proposed version of DRM – it only adds a mark of sorts (through coding or an actual digital watermark on the e-book’s pages) that can be used to trace the work back to the publisher. If the work is found on a pirated site, the author or publisher has proof it belongs to them and can have it removed.

So why, other than the obvious, should this matter to you as the author? Well, how long do you plan on staying in the industry? Are you hoping to still be writing 15 years from now? If you answered “yes” to the last question I have some slightly shocking news for you: Teens don’t read e-books. Yes, you read that right; the digital natives of today prefer print over digital.

RR Bowker’s PubTrack Consumer survey, conducted this past fall, determined that a surprisingly low number of teens read e-books over print:

Teens lag behind all other age groups in e-book adoption. Sixty-six percent of 13- to 17-year olds say they prefer print books to e-books, 26 percent say they have no preference and only 8 percent prefer e-books.”  (Source: http://paidcontent.org/2012/01/23/419-new-stats-kids-find-e-books-fun-and-cool-but-teens-are-still-reluctant/?goback=%2Egde_1515307_member_116431505).

Why would this be? Surely the digital native would be one of the largest groups reading digital, not the smallest. Yet teens are social creatures and social technology is their forte. They are the first to embrace anything in this realm and to put it simply; they do not view e-books as a social. Which, really they aren’t, are they? DRM restricts books to a point where teens are discouraged by them.

Looking at this, if you are trying to target your market audience of 30 year olds, it’s apparent that you need to think ahead. What is going to happen when these teens become adults and they still aren’t reading digital? Have you done all you can do to attract them? Do you want to be the author that allows full DRM on your work or the one providing a simple watermark? What do you think will hook the digital generation and provide you with an audience for years to come?

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For more details on the new ideas for DRM, check out the following links: http://paidcontent.org/2012/05/18/a-kinder-gentler-drm/ and http://idpf.org/epub-content-protection.

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This. Is. Business.

I read a rejection email posted by an aspiring writer yesterday and thought these words attributed to Hillery Borton (then at Penguin) were precious:

“Dear Mr. Jones: I very much enjoyed the freshness of your work, however, I find that there are two kinds of writers, those that want to write and those that need to write. If your story is as thinly disguised as I suspect, Mr. Jones, then you are one of the latter, and I count you in good company. Those who want to write, generally, want to be published and rewarded for their efforts. Those who need to write are primarily concerned with the product of their labors, recognition being an afterthought.  In light of the current hard cover fiction market, I see no way in which your work will be published in its current state. Whether or not you wish to subscribe to the parameters of popular fiction in order to alter the fate of your work is up to you. In the end, you may be happier with the job at McDonald’s. Warm regards, Hillery Borton”

Which kind of writer are you?  Do you want to write or need to write?

If you want to write, and in corollary, want to be rewarded for your efforts, then you need to think in a business-minded way about how to bring your work to market.

Many writers, unless they are specifically writing a book about business, claim no business experience and subsequently leave critical decisions to the whims of fate.

Here is your real competition:  Every day in the United States, more than 800 “serious” books are published.  These books have the backing of an experienced team of editors, producers, marketers and salespeople.  These professionals do their best to knock the current books off the bookshelf and replace them with their books.  They do their best to fill the airwaves with messages about their books, working tirelessly to crowd out the words of their competitors, new and old.  If you want to know how big the ocean of competition is, and how your work has as much chance as a fresh-hatched baby turtle, take a look at The 10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing.

It doesn’t matter whether you choose to seek help from a traditional publisher, or bring the work to market yourself.  You still need to bring a business sense to the journey.  If you “want to write,” This. Is. Business.

You don’t need an MBA to think about your work in a business context.  Apply your everyday experience and answer these questions:

  1. What is my business plan for bringing my work(s) to market?
  2. What is my production schedule?
  3. How much of the work will I hire out, versus execute personally?
    1. Will I seek to employ a traditional publisher?
    2. Will I seek to employ independent contractors, and act as the producer myself?
  4. Do I know what the parameters of popular fiction (or non-fiction) are?
    1. Which “rules” am I “breaking” and am I breaking them for a purpose?
  5. Do I have a budget and plan for marketing?
    1. And if I’m self-publishing, do I have budget for editing, cover design, interior layout, et al?
  6. How do these plans change if I plan to bring more than one work to market?
  7. How do these plans change if I attain the success I am hoping for?

There are key indicators of success in this market.  If you are working toward these, you have a better chance at joining the small percentage of writers who generate enough sales to pay back the expenses of bringing their work to market:

    1. Write a great book, and get an objective opinion about it.
    2. Have your work edited, professionally
    3. Get a professional cover design and interior layout for your works
    4. Budget and plan to market your work, whether self-published or traditionally published
    5. Create your distribution strategy for your e-book, print book, and audio book versions
    6. Educate yourself on this market and the pros and cons of each major decision

If you want to write, then treat this like a business.  You don’t need a business degree, just perseverance and educated decisions at each step of your journey.  There are so many authors who have generously shared their publishing experiences for free on the Internet.  There is no good excuse for not doing research and arming yourself with the best, current thinking in this market.

To Print or not to Print?

So, your book is almost finished and you are starting to think about how you are going to turn your manuscript into something that Readers want to buy.  Some book designers I’ve talked to suggest working on the book cover while you are in the editing phase.  Having a book cover can give you some focus for your writing work.  After ALL editing is complete, you’ll start on the interior layout phase.  Your book cover and interior layout will have a big impact on your marketing and reader satisfaction, respectively.

One of the considerations in building your cover and your interior layout is whether you plan to sell your book in a print version.  If you think you’ll want a print version of your book in the future and if you are engaging a professional service to create your cover and interior layout, then it is worth asking the designer(s) to design both the e-book AND print versions of your book cover and interior layout at the same time.  This will cost more now, but less than re-engaging your designer later to do the print version as a stand-alone project.  Even if you are doing the cover design and interior layout yourself, it is a good idea to tackle them at the same time.

Still not sure you care about print? Here are a variety of reasons an author might want to consider printing their book:

  • Depending upon your genre, 50% to 90% of sales are typically print books
  • Print-On-Demand (POD) is a low-cost way to make your print book available on Amazon.com
  • Position a book for bookstores and other bricks-and-mortar distribution possibilities
  • Print books for book signings and promotions
  • Print books for reviewers/bloggers that prefer print versions
  • Print books for keepsakes (families/friends/personal use)

If you are going to design a cover and interior layout for a print version of your book, then you may want to consider choosing a target book size that is ready for several different printing services.  Creating one book-cover file and one interior layout file that can work across multiple platforms (and look good on any of them) will save you money and keep you flexible as your sales and distribution evolves.

I recommend creating one set of files that can be used on any of these platforms:

  1. Lighting Source
  2. Createspace
  3. Espresso Book Machine
  4. A digital web press (hopefully a shop with the latest commercial HP printers)

There are plusses and minuses to each of these print routes, but at the very least, you should be able prepare your book files once and be ready for any of them.  In an upcoming blog post, I will ask one of our book designer friends to give us some advice on which format targets (book sizes) are common and available across all four platforms.

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Thought Leadership: Who is thinking outside of the box?

The publishing industry is changing at lightning speed.  As we develop WaveCloud’s voice in the market, I have been searching for the thought leaders who are providing the most helpful insight, analysis and predictions.  To most outward observers, all of the thought leadership and innovation in our industry is being driven by the actions of Amazon.  However, I think there are a few insiders, not bound by legacy thinking or legacy business relationships, driving important ideas into the market.

If you are a self-publishing author, you owe it to yourself to be conversant in what the leaders in this space are saying.  In my opinion, the voices below are providing ideas and opinions that are pushing the publishing industry to acknowledge and embrace the change.  In no particular order, here are the ones I have found to be the most valuable:

1.    Mike Shatzkin’s blog “The Shatzkin Files”, found at http://www.idealog.com/blog/

I haven’t found a better source of insider analysis than the blog posts of Mike Shatzkin.  If you don’t have access to executive-level professionals in the traditional publishing industry, but would like to know what they are wrestling with, Mike’s blog is outstanding.  He understands this industry from multiple angles and I learn something with every single post.

2.    Mike Masnick’s blog “techdirt”, found at http://www.techdirt.com/

Mike Masnick and his team write mostly about the economic implications of the rapid change in the digital content industry.  Many of their posts are about copyright law and some are about the publishing industry.  He is a big proponent of the CwF+RtB=$$$ model of content creation.  If you haven’t read it yet, you positively need to download a copy of his report “The Sky is Rising!

3.    Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, found at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/

Dean doesn’t have an axe to grind.  He wants traditional publishers to respect Authors and Authors to make considered, informed decisions about their route to market.  One of the things I like best about Dean’s approach is how he urges you to do the math and think about which route to market makes the most sense for you.  He has also published a good book on this topic, Think Like a Publisher.

4.    Kristine Kathryn Rousch’s blog, found at http://kriswrites.com  (but don’t go there yet, read on!)

Kris is Dean’s wife and a successful writer in her own right.  She writes wonderful posts about Agents and Publishers mostly from the Author’s viewpoint.  Recently, she has uncovered what sounds like significant evidence of less-than-ethical practices amongst Publishers and Agents.  As her posts revealed more details, she found that her blog site HAD BEEN HACKED in an effort to silence her.  This is not a conspiracy theory.  I’ve enjoyed all of her posts and added some of her books to my reading list for the summer.  As soon as her blog site is back up, I urge you to start following her.

5.    David Vandagriff, aka “The Passive Guy” blog found at http://www.thepassivevoice.com/

The Passive Guy posts started out concentrating around the area of contracts, specifically publishing contracts.  Now his posts are more wide ranging.  He doesn’t give legal advice in his posts, but often applies a legal sense to what is going on in the industry.

6.    Joe Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, found at http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

What I love most about Joe’s posts is that he isn’t afraid to talk about the elephant in the room, and it isn’t Amazon.  Joe talks truth to the Traditional Publishing Industry, albeit in what some consider an inflammatory way.  He is very clear and he doesn’t hate the big publishers. He simply finds most of their business practices objectionable.  If you need a strong voice to talk you out of signing with a traditional publisher, Joe has all the juice you’ll need, and then some.  I enjoy all of his posts.

7.    Nate Hoffelder’s blog, “the Digital Reader”, found at http://www.the-digital-reader.com/

Nate’s blog is mostly a great place to catch up on industry news, with frequent commentary on what the implications might be for Authors.  His blog posts are the first set that I read every morning.  It is rare that he doesn’t catch an announcement or event before any of my other news sources.

8.    Ida C. Young-Bondi’s “eBook” page found at http://www.scoop.it/t/ebook

This is another good source for industry news and how-to articles.  Ida seems to capture news and press releases that my other sources miss.  I usually read every article that appears on this industry news aggregator page.

9.    Seth Godin’s blog at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/  AND here: http://www.thedominoproject.com/  (I subscribe to both)

Seth is an out-of-the-box thinker, and reading his posts has certainly helped me get out of the box (a little).  He is a well-regarded thought leader in the publishing space, and you would be wise to know about his latest post.

10.   Joel Friedlander’s blog found at http://www.thebookdesigner.com/

I’ve enjoyed reading Joel’s posts about how to improve my writing craft and understand this industry.  He does a great job of giving advice and how-to guides for self-publishers.  One of my favorites is his article/podcast on editing, found here.

Of course, I also subscribe to newsletters from Digital Book World, MediaBistro:AppNewser, MediaBistro:GalleryCat and a couple of Google Alerts for search terms like “e-book OR ebook”, “WaveCloud” and “Bill Van Orsdel.”  :-)

One of the benefits of self-publishing is the short interval between finishing the first manuscript and publishing your work.  But implied with this quick time to market is the responsibility for Authors to stay up to date on what is going on in the industry.  Wherever offered, I have subscribed to the 10 blogs above.  This brings them right into my inbox each morning for a quick scan.

I recommend that you stay in touch with voices like these.  When you take responsibility for publishing your own work, you need a concise and relevant tool for staying close to the market.  You could do worse than these blogs.

Do you follow any blog’s that have given you good, sustained insight?  If so, please let us know what about them.

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What’s in a Genre? Better Question: Who decides?

J.K. Rowling recently announced her next project.  It is not about children, wizards or the school of Hogwarts.  It’s about a town called Pagford and the people who live there, torn apart by class conflict.  Her website describes the book as “blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising,The Casual Vacancy” is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.”  (Adult Fiction)

Hummm. Theses sentences got me thinking.  Were the Harry Potter books classified appropriately under the right genre?  Seems to me that the books could also be described as blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising (i.e., a school torn apart by conflict and scary wizardry).  My 8-year-old son is finally able to watch the first “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (Fantasy/Children/Juvenile Fiction, Young Readers, 9-12 year olds) movie without getting freaked out. And he is not the norm. Most of his friends have read the books already or have at least seen one of the movies.

I started thinking about “The Hunger Games Trilogy,” by Suzanne Collins.  The books are listed under the Children/Juvenile Fiction or Young Adult genre.   I would not let my child read any of the books, but I know my neighbor’s 10-year-old daughter has read all three.  I just finished reading “Mockingjay” and there were times when even this 40-something had a rough time sleeping through the night.  All of this makes me wonder how genre classifications are decided and whether they are used to define age-appropriate books or simply to enable sales. Scholastic, Inc. seems to think that “Mockingjay” is appropriate for a 12 year old.  (Children/Juvenile Fiction, Young Adult 12 – 17 year olds) I beg to differ.

What JK Rowling has done really well is leverage her existing fan base, allowing those child readers to grow into adult readers who will no doubt be drawn to “The Casual Vacancy.”  They have grown into this book.  She has, and will always have, the Harry Potter series that children will read and grow out of.  She has brilliantly laid out a marketing plan using genres as a guide.

Genres are guides used to classify or organize books.  They are not policed by a world or national organization.  They are decided on by authors and publishers in an attempt to target the right audience.  We could talk for hours about the slippery slope that Romance Fiction takes when it crosses over into Erotica (a.k.a., “Paper Porn”) and how those authors may take some liberties in downplaying their genre classifications.  But what this really tells us is that we, as readers, need to be aware of what we are reading.  The genre is our guide, not a defining factor of a book’s true contents.  When it comes to our kids, I only hope that publishers and authors think long and hard about where their book falls under the Browse button. Not every parent previews their kid’s books!

Please tell us your thoughts on genres and how they impact your reading decisions.

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Researching Hot Topics Can Drive Author Decisions

One of the advantages of self-publishing is speed. You can create a fiction or non-fiction piece of work around current topics and be reasonably certain the topic will still be fresh when you take your book to market.  That is quite an advantage when compared to the traditional publishing delay of 16 to 22 months between finished manuscript and bookshelf availability.

Part of my business plan for writing my debut novel included a “research” phase, of which at least one objective can be to help an Author determine which topic might be most popular – or perhaps which of the multiple topics he/she is considering might be the most prudent to approach.

Here is one example of just such research.  The following is a list of the top three subjects in best-selling, paid, e-books of the non-fiction genre category:

  • History: Titanic, WWI Survival, The Third Reich
  • Biographies: Humorous Memoir, The Kennedy’s, Steve Jobs
  • Religion & Spirituality: The Vow (movie tie-in), Marriage Improvement, Love of God
  • Self-Help: Couples Relationships (movie tie-in),
  • Current Affairs: Founding Fathers, Role of the President, Poverty in India
  • True Crime: Fast and Furious Scandal, Discrimination against Convicts, The Ron Williamson Story
  • Business: Good Business Habits, Economic Activism, Creativity in Business

To make this research personally useful, I would want to know at least the top 10 topics for the past few months in my targeted genre (or genres).  With that information, an Author could make good decisions about which topics to embrace or avoid with their book.

Of course, this all depends upon whether you’ve decided on a direction – or if you are intent on a particular topic or story. I know a lot of Authors want to write the “book of their heart.”

Which kind of Author are you?

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Taking a book to market: Back to the business plan

In my last post on this topic, I was happy to have reached the first milestones in my production and business plans for my first novel.  Last weekend was also productive.  Because I’m a “plotter,” I used Snowflake Pro and have completed about a fourth of my story design.  I’m working on this novel in my spare time to help stay in the mindset of a writer and aspiring author.  During the story design phase, I’ve started to think in more detail about my business plan, especially the parts where: Continue reading

Do I need an ISBN? (Yes, but it’s complicated)

I crafted this post as an addition to a LinkedIn thread in the self-publishing area.  This is the detailed version of my response:

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I'd like to add a different perspective on ISBN purchasing and the implications of an Author’s choice.

  1. If you are planning to treat the publishing of your book as a business, you need an ISBN for your book.  Industry guidelines strongly suggest that you will need more than one, because:
  1. Each physical format needs a different ISBN: Hardcover, Trade paperback, Mass paperback each need their own. Continue reading

Finding an audience; letting the audience find you

I spoke with two debut authors recently, both in the final editing stages of their first books. They each had similar questions about what to do next.  Given how close they are to releasing their e-books, I recommended that they begin their pre-marketing efforts now.

An important pre-marketing task that I suggested was to identify the various genre communities they each could engage to begin raising the visibility of their respective books. Continue reading