E-Books

Switching or Grinding Gears?

Each year in the U.S. more titles are published indie/self-pub than by all traditional publishers combined.

Some authors publish only indie or traditional, but some entrepreneurial folks are known as “hybrid” and use whatever model works best for the situation at the moment. Many clients of the Steve Laube Agency are hybrid authors and it works just fine.

There are some things you do for an indie book you won’t do for traditional publishers. Knowing when to switch your thinking and approach is important. If you cannot switch your approach to accommodate traditional publishers, you will attempt to exert control over things that you can’t control and it will not be a fulfilling experience for you.

A hybrid author is similar to a person who is self-employed but also holds a job with a “traditional” company.

A self-employed person would split their time being self-driven, decision-making, buck-stops-here, trail-blazing, everything depends on them and a person who knows how to be a team player.

If you are indie-published and eventually seek to be a hybrid author, here are some things you need to change when working with a traditional book publishing.

“The manuscript is finished” – the publisher will be thankful for this and tell you. Then they will gather their editorial staff and have you make so many changes that you wonder if they really understood that you gave them a “finished manuscript.” No manuscript is ever truly finished. (evil laugh)

“I have a final cover already designed” – You might have some ideas, but hold them lightly in your hand. If you tell the publisher you have a cover already done for the book, they will politely thank you and maybe even agree to take a look, but publishers are thinking more about what their retail customers are thinking, not what the author likes. Covers need to be fluid and adaptable for the marketplace.

“It’s a 200-page book” – For indie publishing, page count is important because the price you pay for printing is based on the number of pages. Publishers might turn it into a 150 or 300-page book depending on how they see the content, interior structure and desired retail price.  Use word-counts instead when communicating length.

“I will send out a press release as part of the marketing” – Take a deep breath and have a nice conversation with the publisher to determine what they will do to promote your book and what you should do. It won’t all fall on you. Think as a team player.

“I would like this to release next month” – There will be no initial response from the publisher, but behind the scenes, the agent or acquisitions editor will be questioned by a person in management to find out who gave the impression to the author that the 12-24 month timeframe needed to publish a book effectively was no longer in effect. After that happens, you will get a call from someone apologizing for not making it clearer that traditional publishers are a little different than the indie process. Publishing a book well is more than getting it printed and placed at an online retailer.

“The price is $12.99” – You can’t dictate retail prices to a publisher. Well, I suppose you can, but it is a waste of your time. So many factors go into pricing that you can save yourself some work by just forgetting about it and let the publisher do their job.

“I’d like to give away the eBook for free” – Umm…no. Publisher will want to recoup the money they paid you. Accountants don’t consider “units” as currency and besides, they can’t pay bills with units.  So, while a publisher will want to use special eBook pricing for promotion once in a while, they will set the highest reasonable price they can for your book so they can earn back their investment.

“I gave away 50,000 copies of my previous book as a free download” – see above answer. This is not as positive as you think it is. Free is OK if it leads to increased paid sales. If not, you just gave away the store for no reason at all. Traditional publishers do not like to give things away for no reason.

“This is my book” – yes it is, but you just entered into a partnership and in exchange for someone else taking financial risk, you need to move to a cooperative state of mind.

Self-publishing is singles tennis. Everything depends on you.

Traditional publishing is doubles tennis. You succeed when you and your teammate succeed.

When you maintain that balance…game, set, match.

 

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Did You Feel the Tremor in the Industry Last Week?

by Steve Laube

I know what it is like to feel the earth move under my feet having experienced the ’64 Alaska earthquake firsthand. (The above picture is from the neighborhood where we lived called Turnagain Arm.) Therefore I know the difference between a 9.2 Richter scale quake and a tremor that registers near 2.0 on the scale.

Last Thursday Amazon announced they were reducing the royalty payments for authors and vendors who use their ACX service to sell self-published audio books. The amount will change on March 12th for new contracts to a flat rate of 40% instead of the 50%-90% rate they currently pay.

No big deal, right? Sort of like a 2.0 tremor. If you blinked you missed it. And since many don’t have an ACX account to sell audio books they are unaffected. However this should be a reminder to all authors and publishers who use KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) that Amazon can change their royalty terms at any time.

This is the danger of putting all the proverbial eggs in one basket. If any author chooses to only utilize the economic system of Amazon for their sales they can be vulnerable to any changes. I once met a man who sold the foil that was used to make the dairy creamer packets for McDonalds. He had one client. His job was to search the world for the best price on foil. And he lived in terror of losing his client.

Be very clear, I am not suggesting that this is going to happen. Amazon’s 70% royalty rate on kindle ebooks has not changed. All I am suggesting is that it could.

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Is Christian Fiction Dying?

Last year, a couple Christian publishers stopped publishing fiction.  Some publishers are nervous about it and in a wait-and-see mode. Others are excited about growth potential.  The answer to the title question is no, but it is certainly interesting to explore the reason behind such widely diverse opinions on the subject.

NOTE #1: For full disclosure, I am a member of the advisory board for the Christy Awards, had a substantial period of my time in publishing during growth years of Christian fiction and our literary agency is committed to Christian fiction and its authors (as well as non-fiction projects).  Therefore I have an interest in seeing Christian fiction grow both personally and professionally.

NOTE #2:  I am limiting my comments to traditional publishing only, not self-published novels.  

Here is why I think Christian Fiction is causing some publisher-confusion right now:

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Embracing Change

On September 3, 1967 the world changed. It was a day remembered for chaos and disillusionment, despair and confusion.  No, it wasn’t because the last episode of “What’s My Line?” aired on U.S. television.

The above picture is what happened in Sweden the day the country switched from driving on the left to the right side of the road.  Their neighbors, Norway and Finland had already changed, but alas, Sweden held out until they could wait no longer.

Predictably, throughout history, big changes have been viewed first with skepticism and then as a threat to the groups that stand to lose the most or simply like the way things are.

In 1876 an internal memo at the Western Union Company, who were making a lot of money with telegrams stated, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently no value to us.”

I wonder how that turned out?

H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers was making a lot of money in the silent movie business, so it was no mystery why he commented in 1927, “Who wants to hear actors talk?” (Expletive deleted)

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E-Readers, Tablets and Bears, Oh My

The latest data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project released this Fall and confirmed in solid data what we all know to be true…that e-Book readers and tablets are becoming more prevalent in American society.

In a scientific survey conducted five times since May, 2010, the Pew Research Center concluded as of September 2013 that 24% of Americans age 16 and older have a dedicated e-Book reader (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc.) and 35% have a tablet computer (like an iPad, etc.).  Furthermore, 43% of those 16+ have one or the other, so a number of people have both.

Compared to the last survey taken in November 2012, this one reveals a 26% increase in ownership of e-Book readers and a 40% increase in ownership of tablets in the last ten months.

So who owns these things anyway?

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Doomsday Words

“Nobody is buying print books anymore”

“Nobody is buying printed magazines or newspapers anymore”

“No one shops at bookstores anymore”

“No one is reading anymore”

“No one goes to the trade shows anymore”

“No one needs a traditional publisher anymore”

“Everyone should just self-publish”

When the speed of change is faster than we can easily comprehend, our language has a difficult time catching up with reality, so we have a tendency to use over-stated terms to describe what is happening.  Our very choice of words open the door to making some very poor business decisions.  How?  Rather than seeking wise solutions by understanding the facts, we make fast decisions based on incomplete information.   Simply…it’s faster.

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A is for Agent

by Steve Laube

I thought it might be fun to write a series that addresses some of the basic terms that define our industry. The perfect place to start, of course, is the letter “A.” And even better to start with the word “Agent.”

If you are a writer, you’ve got it easy. When you say you are a writer your audience lights up because they know what that means. (Their perception is that you sit around all day thinking profound thoughts. And that you are rich.)

If you are an editor, you got it sort of easy. Your audience knows you work with words and all you do is sit around and read all day. In my editorial days I was often told, “I’d love to have your job.”

But tell someone you are an agent and there is a blink and a pause. If they don’t know the publishing industry they think “insurance agent” or “real estate agent” or “secret agent.” Or if they follow sports or entertainment they think “sleazy liar who makes deals and talks on the phone all day.” I resent people thinking that I talk on the phone all day. (Hah!)

Even at a writers conference I always have someone ask, “What is it that you do?”

Deal Maker

An agent works on commission. Fifteen percent of the money earned in a contract they have sold to a publisher on behalf of a writer. I will be bold to say that any prospective agent who asks you for money up front is someone you should stay away from.

This is the category that most people focus on when defining the role of the agent. But it is only one small facet of what we do. Two months ago I published a list of the activities our agency had recently done as a way to help dispel the myth that we are only deal makers. It is how we earn our living but only a small part of our work.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a crucial part of what we do. Our contract negotiations are critical to the long-term health of the publishing/author relationship. Last Fall I taught a course at a conference called “Landmines in Your Book Contract.” Each time I read one from an “offending” contract there were gasps in the room. There is a good reason to have a professional review any book contract you are ready to sign.

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Author Accounting 101

by Steve Laube

You are a published author. You must be rich!
You are an agent. I know you are rich.

If it only were true.

A couple weeks ago we peered at the bottom line for the brick & mortar bookstore, now let’s attempt to do the same for the author. Please remember this exercise is generic, your mileage may vary. As before we will use some round numbers so we can all follow the math.

Let’s start with that $10 retail price book we dealt with before. The publisher sells the book for $6.00 to a store. That creates a “net price” for the publisher. Be aware that some contracts pay the author a royalty based on the retail price and some on the net price.

The net price is $6.00. They author’s contract pays them 15% of the net price. That would mean when this book was sold to the bookstore the author’s account was credited for 90 cents.

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When Editorial Errors Matter

by Steve Laube

Writers make mistakes. It happens. Often an editor’s job is to be the safety net and catch those tidbits that find their way into an early draft of a manuscript for any number of reasons.

The simplicity of “cut & paste” has created more opportunity for error than ever before. I’ve seen half sentences left in their original place because the writer failed to cut and paste accurately. Many books evolve over time with additional research or new thoughts. Errors can creep in this way. I’ve seen an author actually contradict himself between chapters. There are too many details to keep straight so the writer overlooks the inconsequential trusting the editor to fix things. I remember talking to a Bethany House editor who revealed that an author accidently brought a character back to life, forgetting that the character had died earlier in the story.

None of the above examples ever found their way into the final edition of the book and the public never knew the error was made. An editor caught it and fixed it. That is why errors found in a finished and published book are so jarring.

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