What’s it worth to ya, ay?

So, there’s this bloke.

Selznick, Matt Selznick.

He’s doing fairly well at this author lark. Been going for a while, put out a fair wodge of books and other creative materiel, and is altogether open about his experiences therewith.

So far, so good… So what? You might be thinking. (Especially if you’re an old Megadeth fan, like me.)

Well, he’s trying out something which has been pootling around the sub-basement of the creative world for a while, but no-one’s really making a huge noise about it.

The concept is Pay What You Want.

There are several things out there which approach this:

– Kickstarter has different levels of reward if you throw more financial support to a project;

– Patreon lets you  support creative people in whatever they do at various levels for which you get the works and some rewards;

– The various bundles (Humblebundle, Storybundle, Arcane Bundle, etc.) let you get a few books for cheap/nothing and if you pay more you get some extras.

At first glance it seems like a daft idea. But it’s actually sensible.

Short-term, any fans you already have are likely to over-pay, if they can, because they want you to keep on writing; any you give away for free/cheap would most likely have been pirated in any case, it’s a fact of life we might as well embrace whatever your views on the morality of it.

Medium-term, you’re looking at an easy way for people to try out your stuff who might have been unwilling to pay full-price for someone they haven’t read before. They like you and they are more likely to come back at full price, later. Also, if you have a series running, the odds are that you’ll be looking to get sales bumps on the older books as the new ones are released, if someone can pick up the series for an amount that covers your costs, all well and good.

Long-term, the people who are/were fans but who weren’t in a position to pay top-dollar in the short-term scenario are back with a bit more cash AND they’ve told their mates about how good your books and, and what a nice author you are to have helped them out with reading materials when they were low. Can’t get better than readers who talk to their mates about you. It beats any marketing budget hands-down for building your career.

And that’s what this is about. This isn’t a gimmick to sell A book, it’s about building a career and a relationship with the people who ultimately support your career: the readers.

Is it a somewhat brave stance to take in a still-uncertain climate? Sure.

Do I have the balls to do this straight off the bat when I start publishing? Probably not. Wish I did.

But this guy does. His name is Selznick, Matt Selznick. He’s a career writer.

Go and have a look at his piece on the matter over here.

HFBL

K

An interesting perspective on publishing

I just had an email from Writer’s Digest which linked to this article.

The first “mistake” listed gave me a little pause. One of the major points which has always been in favour of following a traditional publishing path has been having a possibly large publisher lend their weight to the marketing effort of your novel. But. There’s this quote:

You need to act like an indie author — a determined one — if you want to make it in the world of publishing.

Truly said. If that’s the case, how is it different from being an indie author?

As a naïve, beginning author I had plenty of romantic notions about the publishing industry. I knew nothing of self-publishing beyond the utter disdain for vanity publishing and the two were pretty much synonymous.

Even when I started to learn more about publishing, I thought that an indie author has to do everything themselves, alone, without help. It explained why everyone seemed to be very down on self-publishing.

REAL publishers could do so many things!

  • They have editors, cover artists, layout designers, copywriters for blurbs, etc.;
  • They printed paperbacks;
  • They create ebooks;
  • They printed hardbacks(!);
  • They can arrange for audio books;
  • They give you a chunk of cash up front (advance on royalties);
  • They give you more cash for as long as your book sells (royalties);
  • They could market your book far and wide;
  • They can arrange for interviews;
  • They could get your book into the high-street book store chains;
  • They can make your book available to libraries;
  • They can get you on the lists for the major prizes;
  • They can get you on the major best-seller lists.

None of those things are false. They just don’t do them very much. Most of the time.

These days, your average new, or mid-list, author has to arrange most of their own marketing and interviews. The advances are notoriously poor and the royalties are around 10% (print, 25% nett for ebook). Most authors don’t get listed for prizes or positioned for best-seller lists, nor is there a guarantee of being well-positioned in book stores. With some of the newer contracts, there isn’t even the guarantee of a novel being printed, nor of an audio book release.

The indie author has a higher initial outlay in finding editors and the rest, but they are available. Ebooks have been the mainstay of the indie author and there is little barrier to many of the markets. Print-on-demand through IngramSpark, for example, allows for printing in paperback and hardback, and distribution to any book store or library. Audiobooks, podiobooks, or podcasts are all available to the indie author, in various outlets. All the marketing is up to the author, but, again, there are professionals available for hire. The major prizes are still mostly a closed, ahem, book, but the best-seller lists are beginning to open up.

What’s left?

Well. With the traditional publishers there’s still the advance, such as it is. If you are lucky, the back-channel marketing might be above average. It’s still easier to get into major book stores, libraries, prizes and lists. Your audiobooks, if you get them, are more likely to be read by Names. And you don’t have to worry about any of the other production issues. By and large. Kinda.

You balance that against control of the product and story-world, control of how you are marketed, and 35% to 80% (depending on format, distribution channel, etc.).

And the fact that the public, visible marketing is likely to be all down to you, no matter which path you choose.

It seems that there is very little to choose between the paths. So it comes down to personal choice. But it also means that if one path doesn’t work for you, there’s nothing to stop you going the other path, without any particular detriment.

There are other factors involved: contract clauses (rights grabs, broad non-compete definitions & reversion being the primary contenders), foreign sales & translation (in both paths), and others.

But… It’s late, I’m tired and I have to get up to write legal blurb in the morning.

Think on it.

K

Current thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

Now, I’m not selling anything, anywhere, bookwise just yet. This is very much the apprehensive author sticking his toe into the water to see what the temperature is like before jumping in. Also crocodiles. And sharks.

So, from my perspective, there are several aspects to consider:

  • You have to be in KDP Select, which precludes selling through any other channel. If you only ever make sales through Amazon, then no worries, but you won’t gain readers elsewhere, either.
  • The 10% thing… Means that readers who buy the mobi version so they can strip it and read on another device will never read that 10%, according to Amazon’s tracking. Not a big deal in itself, but it’s a consideration.
  • Only voracious readers will benefit from KU, most readers don’t read the 3+ (5+ for savvy readers) books per month which would make KU attractive.
  • Both the voracious and savvy readers report that about 10-20% of their wishlist is available via KU, making the proposition still uneconomic for them.
  • If the larger trade publishers and best-selling indies go for it, it might serve those readers better and exposure will climb, but at the moment, it doesn’t.
  • KOLL users report a semi-regular return of around £1.30 per “read”, but attached to the 10% thing, that might rise or fall, no-one knows. It’s certainly not a bad rate for books that you might otherwise be pricing at £0.79 to move.

Taking those things together, it might make sense for shorter works to be placed there, at least for a little while.
It might also make sense, if you have an active series, to have the first book placed in KU, to try and garner exposure for the other books in the series. Likewise, it might work for books which have earned out and you can therefore afford to take the risk.

All in all, if you have a no – or low – risk proposition it might make sense to try it out, otherwise it’s probably better to wait and see.

I have to admit that with everything else that is going on, I am less and less inclined to tie myself to any one sales channel.

K

In which I get a little bit ranty about Author Solutions…

Based on an argument in a LinkedIn group, I found there was a significant amount of mis-information being spread about the current Author Solutions case, with some even trying to defend the company by putting the blame entirely on the victims.

As you may imagine, my hackles sat up and turned red.

If you’re a member of the “Let’s Talk About Writing” group (it’s an open group, so if you’re on LinkedIn you should be able to join) you can read the whole sorry mess here.

OK, so for those wanting more background, or to understand the points of law which are extant in the current class actions, against Author Solutions there is background, more background and the full text of the most recent judgement against ASI’s motion to dismiss.

In precis: Author Solutions have been investigated and are accused of failing to deliver (in part or in whole) those services which are, in fact, stipulated in the contracts. The judge sitting has dismissed one of eight original claims, allowing the others to stand and be heard by court. The one she has dismissed would have sought to break the contract against which all other claims are based. The judge has also ordered that Penguin Random House is dismissed as co-defendant, leaving Author Solutions to stand as sole defendant for its actions.

I greatly encourage the reading of the facts of the case, rather than engaging in rhetoric over whether or not a generic contract is legal and binding. Contracts may be challenged if they are deemed unfair; the results of a contract may be challenged if either party do not supply.

The point of Unfair Enrichment (of which Author Solutions stands accused in hundreds of cases), is that if a supplier enriches themselves at the other parties’ expense they must provide something of equivalent value for that enrichment; when they do not, that is Unfair. When a supplier seeks to imply that certain types of enrichment are “standard” when the same services, of an equivalent quality, can be found for substantially less cost (or free, in many cases), and the supplier does so in the full knowledge if these facts, that may also be deemed to be Unfair.

The full case (and thus the ultimate detail to be presented) has not been heard, but that is the basis of the legal challenge.

Recently, there was also an excellent article I re-blogged here which gave a good round of the situation. In addition, the article seeks to highlight the several other ways in which Author Solutions presents services which can be obtained for substantially less cost, or for free, or which Author Solutions has no method of actually delivering with greater success than an author may do on their own.

There are numerous examples presented and well documented. Several people have also supplied anecdotal evidence on either side of the fence, of which I am not in favour, but which seems to be evidence-du-jour – the balance of that evidence to any reasonable interpretation is that Author Solutions, and its practices, should be avoided at all costs.

Some have claimed that it is purely a case of caveat emptor, the writer should know the publishing business before entering the fray…

I quite agree that a writer seeking to make writing their profession, or to work in the industry to any significant degree, should make themselves fully aware of the business aspects of industry.
Someone seeking only to have their one-and-only manuscript “published” (or just printed), needs to be able to trust that this industry will not strip them bare to do so, and then fail to deliver.
The point about naivety is that many (or most) writers, on entering the industry do not know what they do not know; they haven’t even, yet, formulated the questions to ask what they do not understand. THAT is naivety, and it is in precisely these situation that a predatory company will practice some form of Unfair Enrichment.

We cannot educate everyone who seeks to enter the business, without providing an Authorship 101 as a compulsory module at school; even then it’s not a given. What we can do is spread such knowledge as we have about these businesses which practice predatory tactics and try to eliminate them from the industry, when we find them.

When companies like Author Solutions exist, the industry as a whole suffers.
Readers lose potentially great books.
The authors lose potential income, standing and readership.
The legitimate publishing companies lose the same as the author, though from another angle.
The industry as a whole loses face and the trust of both readers and writers.

It is a situation which cannot be borne, and should not be excused, argued for, or perpetuated.

The Case Against Author Solutions, Part 1: The Numbers

An excellent reminder and round up of the unsavoury practices conducted by Penguin Random House’s Author Solutions.

David Gaughran

authorsolutionsPRHThe more you study an operation like Author Solutions, the more it resembles a two-bit internet scam, except on a colossal scale.

Internet scammers work on percentages. They know that only a tiny fraction of people will get hoodwinked so they flood the world’s inboxes with spammy junk.

While reputable self-publishing services can rely on author referrals and word-of-mouth, Author Solutions is forced to take a different approach. According to figures released by Author Solutions itself when it was looking for a buyer in 2012, it spent a whopping $11.9m on customer acquisition in 2011 alone.

This money is spent on:

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