Life, e-publishing and the universe in general

It’s an interesting week for me in the Chinese curse sense of interesting, with Barbs hurting her back, but that turned out not to be her back but her pelvis being out of alignment and is recovering much faster than we expected. It’s one of the features with being self-employed… not only do you hate your boss, but you also hate that lazy scumbag employee who keeps taking time off for trivia like real life or dying or something unimportant. Honestly who does this self-peon think he is? And then that hoity-toity La Duchesse the naughty-torty going AWOL did not help. Remind me again why mankind voluntarily enslaved itself to capricious creatures like cats? I won’t talk about my little boat trip today, except to say it was hairy, and I am sore. Man-aleen in the teeth of a storm was… exciting. and not in a good way.

Anyway I thought I’d offer this for discussion this week

For the record I think there a few features Mark Coker does not address – one being that Smashwords Word-to-epub is… adequate. Barely. And Smashwords epub direct upload (if you do a much better job yourself) is just awful. It’s less friendly than CreateSpace, which is not friendly or cuddly. None of these impossible or even that difficult, but it isn’t a comfortable area to venture into for the first time, when you, like know nothing. I’ve managed to stay that way, keeping my innocent purity of mind, thus.

The other issue someone brought up is that there is a conflict with linking your books back to Smashwords. I like my Amazon books, to my Amazon books. That’s something that ought to be easy to address, and worth a lot to authors.

I can only comment on the ‘growth’ in Scribd and Oyster on my own experience – which is yes growth from 0 to one sale is a magnificent 100% increase, and near to worthless.

I think the picture is more complex than it is made out to be here – not that I don’t think he gives some good advice, but I believe the industry is still on shaky ground, changing and adapting. Yes, some of the easy victories are past. Yes, some of the sheer volume is proving hard to sell. Yes, some people will drop out.
Part of the sheer volume problem is quite simply that writers who had a backlog put it all up. That will slow down, firstly because they have to write new books, and secondly because some of it will flop so badly that they will have no inclination to persevere.

The other factor that I don’t think Mark dealt with adequately is target audiences (he did talk about experimenting). Writers – myself included – are often imitative of styles and tropes that they either like or believe will succeed. And readers too come associate certain genres with specific expectations. In SF particularly, but fantasy too, the writing has become hackneyed and very PC. Look no further than the last Hugo winner for a good example of both, to be blunt. Hackneyed isn’t a problem IF that is actually what the audience wants. Most Romance story lines fit that. So what? Readers WANT that. But if your sales are dropping year on year (as sf and to lesser extent fantasy have been) then maybe you’re doing it wrong. And this I suspect is the problem with a lot of the sf/fantasy being produced – they follow the style and trope of recent trad parts of the genre… which people don’t want to read. It gives the genre a bad name. Meanwhile some areas that are badly under-served have been discovered and are doing quite well.

I also think the sad real state of the economy can’t be helping. But that’s another lie – like the sf ‘originality’ (I was told there was a whine by some author on ABC about how all this ‘derivative’ sf was suddenly popular, which meant that the layered ‘meaningful’ books were out of fashion. I laughed a lot.). When people are down, they like encouraging books, and when they’re battling e-books are cheaper (and if someone is battling that much that an e-book is too much, at least there are lots of free and lots of second hand books).

And talking of cheerful, feel good reads – JOY COMETH WITH THE MOURNING should be available as an e-book on Thanksgiving. I am scrounging Amazon reviews when you’ve done – seeing as it is a charitable effort, aimed principally at helping out some older folk, it would be kind to not say too much that is nasty.


  1. I’d highly recommend that anyone wanting to publish outside Amazon use Draft 2 Digital, rather than Smashwords. It’s a much easier, cleaner interface, and you don’t lose any distribution, while avoiding all the pain and clunky look of Smashwords. Win win.

    1. My current strategy is to leave it at Amazon exclusively until it I have all the benefit I can from that and then to have a go at Smashwords. I shall try draft 2 digital – but need to look at the international authors issues first. I would cut Smashwords out (as I do with Amazon) If I could deal directly with B&N, Kobo and Apple

  2. First, I agree that most of these kinds of State Of The Art Of E-Publishing tend to avoid mentioning the severe economic depression that the US is in right now, mostly because we’re all supposed to pretend that some kind of “recovery”. Americans have less discretionary income than we did ten years ago and market analysis that doesn’t take that into account is flawed from the onset.

    I also feel that early adopters of any technology represent a transitory niche market. Smashwords is still trying to look and feel like e-books are something edgy and avent-garde. But the fact that a book can be read in an electronic format isn’t hot and exiting any more.

    Amazon, on the other hand, is marketing e-books to book customers, not new technology customers. Their site is set up to appeal to users who don’t want an “e-book” they just want the same kind of books they have always read, and if the Kindle format happens to be the easiest and cheapest way to get it, they’ll take that one.

    My mother recently got a Kindle Paperwhite. She is a voracious reader, mostly mysteries, and doesn’t care about the technology. She got an e-reader because she can adjust the type face and make an book large print, because she can shop for books without leaving her apartment, and because she doesn’t have to worry about trying to store a lot of books.

    That’s the long-tail market for e-books, and I think that Smashwords isn’t interested in pursuing that market. Amazon is. .

    1. Misha, I, suspect a lot of Smashwords initial market was ‘erotic’ fiction AKA porn, and the customers didn’t care about format.

      I agree about the economic problems and the fact that Amazon sells to readers. What is interesting is that seeds, camping gear, beer, books and movies were historically counter-cyclical products – doing badly in economic good times. Somewhere in the last 20 years books decoupled from that. I think e-books could turn that around.

  3. I think he’s missing, or at any rate ignoring seasonal influences. July through October sales dipped last year too, and then recovered. And then there’s Christmas. Where with print books, the pre-season sales were robust and nosedived in January/February, I think we’ll see ebook _readers_ being bought before Christmas, and ebook sales climb afterwards.

    And his ideas about the plateauing of new customers entering the ebook market . . . Umm, yeah this may affect the sales of your backlist, but all those readers who enjoyed your last book are going to buy the next. And readers drift a bit between genres, and so you’ll always be capturing new-to-you customers. _Very_ few of us have been discovered by every reader who could possibly enjoy our books.

    Get us out of the seasonal slump, get the US out of it’s endless “recovery” and “low inflation” and I think writers will see a return to solid sales growth.

    1. I know I’d be buying more books, were the economy not stagnant. As in, I’m no longer worried about not getting a raise this year, or in the foreseeable future, I’m more worried about there being enough paying work to keep food on the table (though push comes to shove, I’ll find a way. Always do.)

      On seasonal fluctuation, warm season is when I get the most work done. I’d guess most folk are like that, those of us that have yards to mow, gardens to maintain, and so on at the least. During the cold months, a good book is a fine thing to have around on a chilly night, huddle up next to the best heat source (whether a spouse or a stove) and read until your eyelids droop too much to finish “one more chapter…” *grin*

  4. When people are down, they like encouraging books

    I second this heartily, and can support it from personal experience.

    (and if someone is battling that much that an e-book is too much, at least there are lots of free and lots of second hand books)

    Fanfic, libraries some places, bookstores that haven’t entirely transitioned from the big box ‘if they come in and read, they’ll end up buying enough’, snippets…

    1. I’ve been where it’s book or eat… and chosen book, but I wouldn’t do that to my kids.. And comfort reads have lifted me and got me going again… so many times

      1. I’m going to make extensive use of the Amazon discount sale thingy. Last time I did that, I made 2k in a weekend, which tells me it’s not the books, it’s the price. I just hate having to go Amazon-exclusive for that.

  5. Might also help smashwords’ credibility if their .mobi files actually worked correctly.

    (Hint: the definition of “works correctly”, as applied to a .mobi file in 2014, is “you email it to your Kindle email address, and Amazon is willing to believe it’s really a valid .mobi and send it on to the Kindle”. Smashwords hasn’t met this standard for over a year. The .rtf versions are sometimes accepted for conversion, but the .mobi ones are never allowed to be loaded.)

  6. I read the article and the link to the article where Amazon and Hatchette made their agreement. The one about Amazon seemed more like he was glad that Hatchette got what it wanted and supposedly (?) will be giving a better deal to the authors. Then discredited the Indie Authors and commended the legacy authors. If they want to be a online traditional publisher, fine. I’m not too sure that I want to send anything to Smashwords when I get ready to publish.
    The referenced article was good, but, didn’t cover anything that contributors to MGC haven’t already covered. Smashwords ignores the political/economical . Yes, I will need to work on quality and perhaps do some outside hires; which, may have to wait because of finances, thereby delaying (again) publishing. However, I don’t think that I will be visiting Smashword’s stable when that time comes.

    1. I’ve also had that feeling – indies are his clients, but he’s on the side of traditional authors? WTF?
      Smashwords hasn’t been a total disaster for me – but realistically makes about a 1/10 – or even less Amazon sales.

  7. The first thing I noticed on that article is that he fell prey to the old socialist lie of the Fixed Pie Economic Theory – that if some people do better, others must do worse, or if more people enter the market, everyone does worse. (This is the same coherent but completely wrong theory that motivates the “overpopulation crisis” people.)

    The second thing I noticed is that he thinks “readership” is a fixed pool.But we’re not in the reading material business, we’re in the entertainment business, which takes in tens of billions of dollars annually in the USA alone. If I could convince everyone who watched Interstellar to try Peter’s books, or the people who like the Hunger Games movies to try Sarah’s kick-ass heroine Athena, the results would be… Harry Potter and Twilight level. It’s a discovery problem, where our books are available on every smartphone’s kindle / itunes / google play app, but they’re also competing with twitter and candy crush.

    The third thing I noticed is that his tips include bundles as a must-have. I’ve been watching this cycle and am trying to figure out whether it’s a permanently good thing, or the latest marketing fad that will be useless when the market is glutted with copycats. Not sure yet. But then, “bundle” is the latest word for what we used to call “omnibus edition” or “anthology.” We’ll see.

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