Friday, May 7, 2010

E-Books and On Becoming an Indie Author/Publisher

Why Go All Independent Author on Us, Rob?
  (Part I)

E-books and the electronic readers like the kindle are suddenly legion at schools, at writers conferences, even at ironically enough bookstores. I will never forget at a book signing when a lady pushing a baby carriage by stopped long enough to reach into the carriage to pull out her kindle to proudly flash before me to ask my wife, Miranda and I, “Are your books on Kindle?” We were ready for her, both of us replying, “Yes indeed.”

THREE Million plus kindle e-readers have been sold since December of this year, and Mother’s Day is likely to see a huge number sold as well—perhaps more; at least this is the number I keep seeing in articles in The New Yorker and Newsweek. In other words, the future is upon us and traditional publishing has reason to be concerned even if they don’t know it. More and more authors are taking control of their content and making decisions that impact the content—what they create.

Traditionally, the working arrangement between publisher and writer has always been one of you turn over your creation and the publisher “takes all the risks” as if you are taking no risks in spending months if not years on a manuscript. However, since you are taking “no risks” like those faced by the publisher—business risks—the notion is you are now passive cargo and worth about 8 to 10 percent of each “unit” sold after costs incurred such as an advance.

Now all decision-making is out of your hands, and you are supposed to go write another book in the event the first one sells well. Meanwhile, the publisher’s team—all of whom have pensions and paychecks—make the important decisions of pricing, placing, marketing, packaging, title, down to the font and colors on the cover.

In other words, all decisions made by committee, all of whom are making more money on books being pushed than the author. Think totem pole and the author is at the bottom, and wasn’t a camel a horse designed by committee? My point is when the book fails, the guy at the bottom of the totem pole is the one blamed as his/her numbers of unit sales is too low.

So the business model for the author is pretty bleak, and has been since Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press; ninety nine percent of all novelists in the world cannot live on what they earn as writers. Could you live on eight percent of what you sell without health benefits or pension?

That said, let’s turn now to the business model for the author who is now an Independent Author/Publisher—and for starters, the Kindle contract is not an 8-10% cut but a 70/30 split with the 70 going to the author! Aside from this, the author makes all the decisions to package and price the book, no title fights, no arguments over hardcover vs. trade vs. mass market as none of these designations apply in e-books. The added attraction to doing e-books is control and a sense of freedom.

NYC BIG Publishing appears as interested in change as glaciers, and for good reason—status quo is always attractive.  Also there is the constant mantra about how they “take all the risks” and they also take the lion’s share of the profits. This glacial attitude is no more evident than now with the sudden growth of e-readers and e-readership as the big houses like Random House and Penguin and others are warring with over price-setting.

They have always controlled the prices, and now suddenly millions of avid readers, rabid readers if you will (as kindle readers can go through forty books in a week) want their books at less than ten dollars—as Bezos, the head of Amazon "suggested" and I paraphrase: “You buy a kindle, no kindle book on Amazon for more than 9.99--unless otherwise priced.” Frankly, I believe Bezos truly wanted to revive an interest in reading, reading more, and more reading among all peoples of the world, that he was concerned as many of us are about literacy.

Fact is, Bezos wants the world to have access to any book you or I want “at the moment” or as close to NOW as Whispernet can make it happen. This is why Bezos named his device “Kindle” to “kindle the passion in readers and non-readers alike.” An altruisitc-based business model; imagine that!

By using the A-B-C directions at, I now have some 43 novels for sale online via Kindle Book Store on The e-books for out of print titles may require getting a company like http.//
to convert an actual book to a scan to doc, and once you have a doc file it must be converted to HTML—which can be the most difficult part of the steps involved. If you already have a doc file of the book in question, you won’t have to send off a book to be scanned. I used Blue Leaf because their prices are three times cheaper than anyone else doing book scanning.

By the way...recently learned that if you send a book doc file to a friend with a gmail address it "automatically" converts to html.  I can hardly believe this but have it on good authority!  After all, the most trouble involved in the process is converting the file to html and then in reviewing it, correcting the errors that will inevitably come up in the process of conversion—sometimes quite time consuming.
Meanwhile, once the html conversion is complete, once done and placed up on your kindle dashboard, the rest is smooth sailing. The results in terms of sales are astonishing. In the old business model with traditional publishing wisdom has it that your price the book at the top end—as high as the market will bear.

However, in the e-book model, the readers expect and demand low end pricing, very low end pricing. They are savvy readers who know that putting a book onto Kindle is a snap compared to printing on paper, paying for paper, warehousing paper, overhead for paper, paying PR people, paying marketing director and his staff, etc. Since all of this “goes away” in e-book world, the readers expect far cheaper books in the manner Bezos envisioned – and why not?

It is for this reason that I listed most of my forty plus books on Kindle at 1.99 and 2.99. These books at this low end rate are selling like a river flowing, while my three titles placed up by Harper Collins—priced at exactly the same price as the paper books at 6.99—are sitting there like three stones (no sale) while my novels like Children of Salem at 2.99 are my bestselling titles.

I earned 400 dollars last month on books priced at the lowest end of the scale, while my hardcover novel in the same month earned zip. In one year, I earned (after repaying advance, after packager’s 20 percent, after all overhead costs) a mere 141 dollars on my traditionally published hardcover DEAD ON, while in one month, I earned 400 dollars on my lowly 1.99 and 2.99 specials. What does this kind of economic comparison say about the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things?

Part II – Your Guide to Independent Authorship Found Here will continue here next Friday. Hope to see you back in your seat, ears alert, right here next time for the particulars of getting started in this brave new world of becoming an Indie Author.

Robert W. Walker hoping to hear your comments

Find me at Facebook, Twitter, Write Aide, Dirty Deeds – Advice, and Make Mine Mystery


Ann Charles said...


Thanks for so many great details on the Indie-author side. I love how Kindle opens new opportunities for authors and readers to connect.

Are you doing anything in particular to market your Kindle books? (If you're answering this in a future post, I'll sit back and wait.)


Ann Charles

June said...

Thanks, Rob. This is all great information. Hope you continue this, it is very interesting.


Morgan Mandel said...

Yes, Rob,it is a brave new world where authors are gaining the upperhand.

Morgan Mandel

rob walker said...

Promo for Indie books eh? I go to the kindle boards on Amazon and push there; also on Kindlekorner a, and I use Twitter and facebook to get the word out. ?Facebook allows me to show the cover art on my posts there - way cool. Kindle boards allows me to easily pop up the url for the book.
Have not found a lot of reviewers interested in doing ebooks YET, but I think we will be seeing more outlets for this coming.

Am also blogging at four different blogs, and am wriitng articles for 1st Turning Point and and whenever invited wherever. But I think the most important thing is hving good, clean copy on your descripts that tell the tale along with great cover art.


Merrill Heath said...

Good info, Rob. I'm anxiously awaiting Part II.