Yes, yes… I know…
Die-hard readers of printed books argue that there’s nothing to match the “feel” of those real pages. The crunchy noise they make as you turn them, keeping your partner awake in bed beside you and prompting hissed threats of divorce if you don’t keep quiet. The way that books, like bits of toast, always fall on the floor the wrong way and flip closed, losing your place. The comforting weight of a good tome, like carry around a loaf of rye bread in your backpack. Attracting rats and mice.
Don’t forget germs. A good book can cause people to burst into tears. Tears means sniffles, sniffles means snot, and snot means germs — this stuff’s bubbling out of your nose for God’s sake. It’s hardly going to be sterile, is it? The avid reader probably leaves enough germs on a book’s cover to wipe out an entire city with pneumonia.
Still, we’re very sentimental about the printed novel. It’s kind of romantic in a sleeping spouse-enraging, doughy, germ-ridden sort of way.
Okay, to be fair in this digital, piracy-plagued age there’s a lot to be said for a real book. Your average Stephen King-like novel is around 200,000 words. A printed book is a bloody efficient way to store 200K words. It doesn’t need batteries or a power outlet, it won’t break if you drop it, and when someone else wants to borrow your book it means you’ll hand over your copy, which should prompt many people to say, “Piss off, buy your own — you bloody cheapskate.” That’s good for the author’s sales.
But be honest, as much as you’re keen to hang onto the past and bury your face in several pulped trees when you’re reading, have you ever tried an eReader?
They’re awesome. If you consider buying something like a Kindle Paperwhite it’s not like reading from a screen at all. Amazon has gone to great lengths to create an experience akin to reading a printed paper page — without the snot and germs. However, if you want to try ebooks cost-free you don’t need an eReader at all, if you already own some kind of tablet. Free apps will mimic a Kindle perfectly.
Personally, although I own one of the original Kindles, lately I prefer to read books on my iPad using the Kindle app. For a very simple reason — I can set the app to display white text on a black background and read in the complete dark without disturbing my wife in bed… apart from the constant sniffing, burping, farting and yawning of which I’m apparently guilty of (yes me, not her, but I think she’s making it up). The app never forgets what page I’m on — although I often forget what I read the night before — I can increase the size of the text when I’ve been drinking, and being an iPad I can plug in some headphones and listen to soothing book-reading music at the same time (like Nine Inch Nails or Ozzy Osbourne).
Ebooks are generally cheaper, even best-sellers are usually much less in price than the printed versions. There is a wealth of very cheap, “indie” authors’ books, too. In fact, a zillion free books are out there. Okay, not all of them are well-written. In fact, there’s a lot of crap self-published and the good indie authors are the first to acknowledge this, but don’t let that deter you, because there really are some excellent indie authors doing sci-fi, thrillers, horror — it’s not just about romance and erotica like 50 Shades of Grey. Of course, if you are on the look-out for a bit of naughty porn-without-pictures you should find the odd title or two… yes, I’m being sarcastic.
I don’t have to convince you about eReaders. The apps are free, almost every ebook is available in a decent-sized sample that’s free so it’s a “try before you buy” no-risk purchase. In Australia (dunno about anywhere else) you can even borrow ebooks through your local library. For free — it’s a library, right?
Trust me, eReaders in all shapes and sizes are brilliant. What have you got to lose by trying one? Only a couple of hours reading a really good book… maybe even one of mine?
Featured Book, Twice As Dead US$2.99 from Amazon
“The first time anyone encounters a ghost it helps to be wearing some pants. Wearing anything really, but pants is a good start.”
Lukas Boston is a private detective who attracts beautiful women, annoying ghosts and murder investigations no one else will take on. He’s also caught the attention of a sniper, who is getting closer to Lukas with every shot.
Thanks to his grandmother’s gypsy blood, Lukas has the Gift to see the Dead, but the spirit world only brings him trouble. When the spectre of a dead drug courier starts visiting Lukas, it reopens a case involving a long-missing shipment of cocaine. Word gets out on the street that Lukas somehow has fresh clues and suddenly everyone wants Lukas to find the stolen drugs. Some people will pay Lukas very well if he does – and others will kill him, if he doesn’t.
Welcome to the world of Lukas Boston, a place filled with crime, sex, ghosts and Lukas’ very annoyed landlady
Over the last week or so there has been an enormous bun fight — or should that be “bum fight”? — within the self-publishing book industry. Writers’ forums have been filled with outrage, hand-wringing, ridiculous in-depth mathematical analysis and much soap-boxing. In other words, some very serious dummy-spitting. You see, a lot of really successful authors are about to lose a shitload of money. We’re talking Scrooge McDuck Money Bin amounts of dollars. Huge bundles of cash.
Bear with me while I explain how and why. Don’t worry, there will be lots of sex.
Anyone who self-publishes anything as an ebook has to sell through Amazon. Okay, you don’t have to, but Amazon controls the lion’s share of the ebook market by selling titles for its own Kindle eBook Reader and basically you’re mad, if you don’t sign up to ‘Zon.
Amazon offers a subscription service for people who read tons of books every week. It’s called “Kindle Unlimited” (KU) or the “Kindle Owners Lending Library” (KOLL). I won’t bore you with too much detail, just know that rather than buying each book you want, you can instead pay $10.00 a month as a kind of lending fee and read as much as you like. Authors like me can choose to enrol our books in KU/KOLL and in addition to being paid a royalty fee per-borrow we get exclusive access to marketing tools, advertising… stuff like that.
How does Amazon figure out the royalty fee, if it’s giving your book away? It used a fairly complicated formula that took into account the amount of KU subscribers (and therefore a “pool” of money), how many titles were enrolled in KU and borrowed, what Jeff Bezos paid for lunch on any given day, the penguin population in Antarctica and… well, shit I don’t know exactly and it doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that the last KU payout per book was around $1.35 each borrow.
Get it? Every time someone borrowed one of my books in Amazon’s KU/KOLL library program and read more than ten percent of it (very important, remember this 10% bit) I got paid a royalty fee of $1.35. Brilliant.
Hang on, but many of my books are over 350 pages long, while others are less than 100 pages. But it’s a flat rate? So, everyone still gets paid $1.35 per borrow regardless of the book’s length, retail price and rating? How does that work?
It doesn’t. Yes, it wasn’t long before a lot of writers saw a unique opportunity.
Now we get to talk about Erotica and Romance books. You may be aware, erotica and romance books are a gigantic business. Truly enormous. It’s a huge industry of porn-without-pictures. To name just a few, there’s normal erotica, gay erotica, vampire erotica, dystopia erotica, shape-shifting erotica (getting shagged by werewolves, prompting a bestiality backlash), even something called “dinosaur porn”, but I really don’t want to know what that is – I really don’t. Anything you can imagine, it exists in erotic writing. Plus lots of stuff you’ll never imagine – I hope.
Here’s your standard Erotica story/plotline: A ridiculously handsome and buff-looking plumber is called to the home of a really lonely, bored housewife to fix a blocked pipe (no, don’t go there yet). In the process his shirt gets soaked, the distraught young woman offers to clean and dry it for him — and roughly one page later the bored housewife is getting rogered into a coma on the bathroom floor. A happy ending.
That’s about 5000 words or maybe 12-15 pages, right?
If it’s a romance novel, while the bored housewife is cleaning and drying the plumber’s shirt, he’ll explain how he rescues abandoned kittens off the street and donates them to the elderly. She’ll tell him of her terribly misunderstood relationship with her cruel, career-driven husband… and eventually leads the plumber by the hand into the bedroom (that’s like something out of a Disney fairytale film) where likewise the bored housewife is shagged into exhaustion among lots of fluffy pillows. A romantic ending, if a tad adulterous.
That’s about 7000 words or possibly 20 pages, okay?
You can write this sort of stuff in a day, if you know your chops. A lot of erotica and romance writers were producing one or two titles per week, publishing on Amazon and enrolling them in KU/KOLL to be snapped up by a voracious readership. You can’t underestimate just how huge this market is, believe me. Lonely and bored housewives are being indiscriminately deflowered by shirtless tradesmen all over America and readers can’t get enough of it. Some authors claim to have published 100 “books” in a year. Many have in excess of fifty or sixty and more. For each one borrowed by the million-odd sex-starved subscribers to KU/KOLL they got paid $1.35.
It’s a numbers game that amounted to big, big money. People were earning six-figure incomes courtesy of Amazon’s broken KU/KOLL royalty payment, making a fortune on ten-page porn fantasies. Nothing wrong or illegal — they saw the flaw in Amazon’s KU/KOLL system and exploited it to the full. Good on ‘em.
Starting a week ago, in this July, Amazon said, “Ooops…” and changed its KU/KOLL policy in a drastic way. Now it pays authors not per book borrowed, but by the number of pages read. If you have any doubts, just trust me that Amazon with its Kindle eReaders can easily track how many pages you’ve read. The expected royalty rate will be something like half a cent per page.
The erotic and romantic literary shit has hit the fan. Even if someone reads our illustrious plumber’s tale of sexual pipe-unblocking through to its entire 15 page epic conclusion, that equates to… $0.075 cents royalty fee, not $1.35. And here’s another kicker — to ensure the reader reached that magical “ten percent read” to qualify for royalties (I told you to remember that bit) a lot of erotica writers crammed plenty of rude bits in the opening pages. You don’t need to read the whole book to get your erotic fix and many didn’t. Housewives were being well and truly plumbed by page three, or about $0.015 cents worth.
All those authors earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through KU/KOLL will lose maybe 95% of that income — if not more. Of course, an answer is to remove their books from KU/KOLL and force readers to buy them at full price (usually at 0.99 cents for which they earned 35% royalty), but without the almost indiscriminate method of mad, unlimited borrowing seen in KU, most discerning erotica and romance fans will spend wisely and turn to the well-established authors who write the genre well. It’ll be survival of the fittest.
Among all the teeth-gnashing about the new payment scheme many of these short (as in story, not in stature) erotica writers are screaming that “size doesn’t matter” — which is a really odd thing for purveyors of porn to argue. They say, “Why are we being punished for our books only being 10 pages long? Now novel writers will make all the money! It’s not fucking fair!”
Which is the kind of stupid mathematics I mentioned earlier, because it doesn’t matter if your book is 1000 pages long or only ten. You still only get paid for what someone reads and if your writing sucks, you don’t make any money. It’s about prolonged reader engagement and many authors are welcoming that. This is a serious challenge, by the way. Data tells us that a high percentage of books aren’t read to the finish and many are discarded very early. A lot of KU/KOLL authors aren’t only going to take a big hit in the wallet, but in the ego too as the sales reports reveal just how much of their books are read. Things are going to get ugly for some.
Meanwhile, ranting on the forums still insists that our “Shagging Plumbers-R-Us” saga has equal literary merit to Lord Of The Rings, that it takes exactly the same effort to write 5000 words as it does for 500,000 words, and that all authors should be paid the same KU/KOLL royalty fee for any book regardless of a title’s length, page count, quality, grammar, spelling and any discount plumbing vouchers included inside. Hysterical, panicked shrieking is being heard everywhere on the internet and there’s no plumbers involved at all. Some of it is possibly the gurgling death throes of a Golden Goose. One commentator even claims that most erotica is written by wheelchair-bound, disabled veterans and these changes will hugely impact health care system around the world as incomes are slashed. Hmm… right.
Me, I’m quietly confident my books will be read and in the overall scheme of things the new KU/KOLL system is fair and worthwhile. Besides, I haven’t any more time to worry about it.
I’ve got this idea for a new book that’s about a carpenter who’s called to the home of a lonely, bored housewife and when he arrives, she accidentally turns on the garden sprinkler, soaking his shirt… I’m not going to tell you any more, in case you guess the ending.
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED BOOK
My latest Horror Story is available from Amazon.
It was just a bed — an ordinary, albeit antique bed for the spare room. Until we learn that a hundred years earlier a woman called Rose, who practised in the occult and dark magic, slept in it. Now Rose’s unhappy spirit comes as part of the deal. Rose’s angry ghost comes with the bed.
Angela and Nathan are a young couple, married only two years before, both of them professionals. They’re happy and in love, although the pressures of modern life can be challenging some days. The antique bed is just right for the spare room in their expensive apartment.
Rose’s spirit doesn’t like happy marriages unless you’re prepared to wed the Devil.
Sleeping in the bed promises erotic dreams with perfect lovers — more passionate and daring than your wife, more considerate and satisfying than your husband. Before long, the dreams are much better than reality.
Three’s a crowd in any relationship even when one person is already dead.
A week or so ago a chap called Hugh Howey, a successful novelist who also decided to self-publish with great effect, published a report that analysed the top 7000 ebooks on Amazon (or something like that- sorry if I’m not quite correct). The trick was – or is – that Amazon doesn’t make public any sales figures, only rankings, so it’s always been a bit of a mystery whether or not these top-sellers actually came with high sales. Like, how many books do you need to sell to be within the top 7000? Only Amazon knows.
Except Hugh had a mate, who wrote some software that crunched all the data, and it came back with some unexpected results. Mainly that self-published authors own a lion’s share of the ebook sales, rather than the “Big Five” publishers they’re supposedly, futilely competing against. It’s all being greeted as a bit of an epiphany – a watershed moment in publishing that proves so-called traditional publishing is dead, or at least dying, and dedicated writers no longer really need a “real” publisher to be successful themselves. A lot of high-profile, self-published writers are crowing a kind of “I told you so,” line and flipping a finger at the big publishing house. They’re saying that new writers should consider self-publishing first, before approaching established publishers and agents. It’s the true path to literary riches. The publishing revolution hasn’t just started – the battle is apparently already won according to some of these guys. I doubt the big publishers would agree. They were slow off the blocks when ebooks began getting serious, but they’ve already adapted very, very quickly and can only get better at it.
Among all the debate and rhetoric it’s rarely mentioned that you still need to write a really good book to find success either way. A really good book. The best thing you’ve ever read, let alone written. Ever.
But okay, for the record here’s my brief summary of the argument and you can make up your own mind.
First of all, there is no argument.
Aiming to self-publish a novel means you don’t have to feel obliged to conform to current, popular genres. You can write and publish anything you like, whereas traditional publishing is always trying to stick to the latest formula (e.g. Harry Potter or Twilight-like stories in recent times). You’re increasing the risk no one will ever read your book, but you’ll be writing with a passion and heart that doesn’t really happen when you’re trying to satisfy a market. That’s a good thing. Heaps of established writers – myself included – are self-publishing works that were originally rejected due to considerations of the market at the time, and even the whim of an editor in a commissioning meeting. However, writing the novel is just the start. You need it professionally edited or at least “read” by a pro editor who can give you objective feedback. A very good cover needs designing – standing out from the crowd on Amazon or Smashwords isn’t easy. Then you’ll need to promote the hell out of your book on social media, websites and such, because among many, many other problems you have to solve, your book will be pushed off the front page of the “latest releases” in about ten minutes flat. Here’s a warning, by the way. A lot of writer’s forums and blog sites are run and patronised by other “writers” who couldn’t string a decent sentence together to save their lives, and as soon as they get a whiff that you’re publicising a new, completed book your post will be deleted and your user name blocked. Pathetic, but true. This social media self-promotion bizzo is a lot more difficult than you’ll ever imagine.
If a traditional publisher makes you an offer (or even a smaller publisher or digital publisher like my own Momentum Books) just about all the above isn’t your problem, except for the promotional thing. You still have to promote yourself. In exchange for dealing with the difficult logistics of your novel (editing, cover design, etc) , the publisher exercises most of the control over your book and pays you a royalty less than you can give yourself as a self-publisher, depending on the self-published price structure you might have set and the distributors you sell through.
The truth is there isn’t any choice to be made. It’s not a case of one or the other. As a writer trying to successfully publish a book (anybody can whack it up on Amazon and say they’re “published”) you need a business strategy that looks at both forms of publishing. If your novel is a bit “out there” and would struggle to fit into popular genres, then maybe self-publish and see if you can build a readership before showing the results to a publisher. If you’ve written a formulaic crime novel (with your own brilliant twist, of course) it may be worth approaching an agent or publisher straight away – these people are looking for new writers and books, don’t forget. That’s the business they’re in. They just might write you a big, fat cheque.
That’s if you’ve written a really, really good book, don’t forget. Did you forget that bit? Need I mention it again?
Yes, the publishing revolution has started and, according to Hugh Howey, we may be a lot further down that track than we’d realised prior to his clever mate and number-crunching report. My best advice is, don’t be sucked in by the vitriolic and sometimes petty spats you’ll find on the net. When you’ve finally written “The End” under your treasured manuscript (actually, haven’t seen that for years!) and start looking at publishing options, keep an open mind. You can investigate a lot of different possibilities without drawing a line in the sand between self-publishing and traditional publishers.
Ebooks and ebook publishing have certainly been rocking the boat a lot harder lately. We’re still all in that same boat, though.
If you look to the left you’ll see I’ve created a new page for my new ebook, “Life And Other Annoying Interruptions”. It tells you a bit more about the book and how, and why, I wrote it. There are also links to Amazon and Smashwords, if you’d like to buy a copy. If you do, I’m always keen to hear what you think or, even better, leave a review or comment where you bought the book (oh, the power of the internet reviewer- we live in fear).
I’ve also repriced all my books up to $1.99 each, including this new release. Selling them for 99 cents was an experiment that had next to no impact on sales… people seem prepared to pay any reasonable amount for a good book and it’s time I put a bit more value on nearly twenty years work. At the same time, I’m cool with acknowledging some of these titles were first published in the 1990s and shouldn’t be at some kind of “full” price.
Graeme Hague, July 25th 2012
People have been asking me for years to write a “funny” book. It’s not easy, because everyone has a different idea of exactly what “funny” is, but I have had a project lurking on my computer for some time and I’ve been putting in the effort to get it out there as an ebook and see if… well, anyone laughs. The working title is “Life, and Other Annoying Moments” and it’s in the final stages of editing. Then I have to make a cover, convert it into a right formats… but it’s not far off. Hopefully within a week or so it’ll be available at Amazon and Smashwords. I’m not sure about the title though- it might change.
By now you should be aware that Amazon have launched the Kindle book reader in Australia. I’ve seen one- it’s pretty neat stuff. I used to be anti-Ebook not because of any kind of traditionalist thing, but because I could see they might cause more problems than advantages. Meaning, they wouldn’t become popular. But after having a Kindle in my hands and- more importantly, knowing how companies like Apple will respond by producing something better -I can now see how EBooks will (in my never-so-humble opinion) eventually take over the book industry… and maybe sooner than you think.
Cost is a dominant factor. At the moment in Australia it costs too much to buy a book (and no, we’re not getting into the Parallel Imports argument here) and to walk into a bookstore and make a choice actually represents a gamble- like, a big decision. No one wants to waste $25.00 or more on a novel that turns into a dud read. With EBooks costing around 75% less per copy, let’s say $6.00 a book, the chances of people risking their money will increase enormously. They’ll gamble six bucks on a new author.
However, here’s the rub. Quality control is a serious problem. You can go a respected Ebook publisher’s site and buy a novel with confidence that some kind of story appraisal and editing process was applied to the book- it was worth publishing. But there’s nothing to stop pretty well anyone “launching” their own supposed best-seller from their own website regardless of how good it is. In other words, the danger of Ebooks will be that the virtual bookshelves of the internet will be flooded with crap books written by bad authors who have no idea of their own lack of talent… and there’s plenty of them.
Okay, right now I sound like a wanker, but as a published author believe me that I’ve been approached by many wanna-be writers with manuscripts that are just awful- yet their owners simply can’t see the faults. They’re blind to their own writing’s failings and, in fact, get outraged when you point them out. I once was asked by a friend to evaluate one of his friend’s MS- a monster manuscript of about 300,000 words (say 600 pages) and the whole things was truly bad, I found it incredible that someone could write so much material and never once get a feeling that it had problems. I politely told this writer his MS was crap and threw it away… not out of spite, but because that’s what you do these days. Nobody returns MS’s anymore- the postage costs more than the reprint. It’s pretty standard practise to safely destroy someone’s print-out rather than mail it back. Next thing you know, this guy tops the list of conspiracy theorists and accuses me of “stealing” his story! What a dickhead. When I explained without the aforementioned politeness that his MS was absolute shit and not worth stealing anyway he still didn’t believe me. It took the intervention of the third party, the person who originally asked me to check out the MS for his “friend”, to get this guy to pull his head in.
He is the sort of person who will find a way to publish his masterpiece of crap as an Ebook and put it out there as a worthwhile read… and what’s to stop him? What will warn you, the book-buyer, that his novel is shit?
Maybe that’s the role of established publishers in the future? (Because they will lose the job of printing and distribution). Publishers will act as a marketing and promotional company as alway- and it’ll be tougher -but their best reputation may lie in providing quality books. Publishers will become the “quality control” filter for Ebooks written by new authors.
Meanwhile, established authors like myself will get to enjoy the best of both worlds for a while.
Soon I’ll be releasing my backlist as Ebooks from my website. There’s more in-depth details about these books on my home website at www.graemehague.com.au . I’ll give away some of them for free- there’s that marketing thing again. I reckon it’s going to be a very, very interesting time over the next few years.
What do you think?