Posts Tagged smashwords

My Month of Amazon KDP Select

It is just over a month since Amazon announced KDP Select, opening their Kindle Owners Lending Library to independent publishers.  After deliberating the pros and cons, I took the plunge, giving the program a try.  It has certainly been interesting!

Today, Amazon announced the results of the program so far.  First, I’ll share my experience with the program during this month.

After I signed up my techno thriller Counting from Zero, reluctantly saying goodbye to Smashwords, I didn’t have long to wait – the borrows started happening immediately.  After Christmas, I saw another wave of borrows, presumably new Kindle owners.  Then, in the first few days of the month, another surge.  (I presume this means that borrows are done on a calendar month rather than 30 day periods.  If this is true, we will often see lots of borrows at the start of the month.)

In the 3 weeks of December KDP Select was active, for my eBook, borrows represented 18% of Amazon activity (sales plus borrows).  For January so far, the percentage is about 16%, but with higher numbers of both sales and borrows.  I’d estimate overall sales seem to be up about 25% since Christmas.  Since my sales have increased but my sales ranking has not, this seems to be a general trend, at least in my category.  So, looking at my numbers, since the non-Amazon eBooks sales I gave up to participate in KDP Select only accounted for 5% of my total sales, I appear to be ahead of the game, at least in terms of numbers.  But the question was what would publishers get paid for borrows?  Amazon did not commit to any royalty rate when the program was launched, instead saying authors would share a $500,000 pot of money based on borrowing numbers.

Amazon answered that question today in announcing that KDP Select authors will receive $1.70 for each borrow in December, based on 295,000 borrows in December.  For my relatively low-priced eBook of $2.99, this isn’t much lower than my normal royalty for a sale, which is about $2.  I have yet to try out a free book giveaway day, so I can’t share my experience with this aspect of KDP Select, but I hope to soon.

So, one month in, I do not regret my decision to give KDP Select a try.  I see no reason why I won’t renew (re-enlist?) in two more months. However, I am still unhappy about the exclusivity requirement, as are many other independent publishers.  Amazon, if you are paying attention, this requirement just stinks and you should drop it.

How was your month with KDP Select?

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Amazon

Today I ditched a long time partner, Smashwords.  I feel really, really bad.  I remember clearly the day I found the site and realized I could use this one excellent site for distributing my eBook on multiple platforms: iBooks, Nook, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, etc.  I loved the way I could generate free download coupons for my eBook.  I raved about Smashwords on this blog.  Between Smashwords and Amazon KDP  (Kindle Direct Publishing), I had my eBook publishing bases covered.

As of today, I am using Amazon KDP exclusively to distribute my eBook, Counting from Zero.

Why?  Because of the terms of the new KDP Select program Amazon launched today.  In exchange for forsaking Smashwords (and all others), my eBook will be a part of Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, a brand new part of their Prime service.  Users of this service get to “borrow” one eBook per month for free.  Authors and publishers get no royalty, but instead will split a slush fund from Amazon based on their books share of lending.  How much will this be?  No one knows – it depends on the degree to which users adopt this new model.  There is also the opportunity to offer my eBook for free promotions, as well.

Why did I decide to participate?  Well, the financial calculation was trivial.  As the pie chart shows, 88% of my sales have been eBooks on KDP, with 7% paperbacks (on Amazon and B&N), and just 5% eBooks through Smashwords.  To give up those 5% sales to add a new distribution channel is an easy calculation.  Also, I just love being able to participate in the disruption of the publishing industry, and it will be a very interesting ride the next few months to see if this takes off.

Despite the title of this blog (apologies to Dr. Strangelove), I do still worry about Amazon.  Their power in the publishing industry is growing exponentially.  If the Kindle Fire takes off and lending as well, it will give Amazon even more leverage.  I really, really don’t like the exclusive requirement for Kindle Select.  It feels awful to say goodbye to Smashwords, a site that has been extremely useful to me this year.

So, here it is – it will be interesting to see how it goes!

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Remembrance Day and “Operation eBook Drop”

Today is Remembrance Day, also known as Veterans Day here in the United States, which happens to be a binary date (11/11/11). This day commemorates the Armistice that ended World War 1 in 1918. Today I remember two of my relatives who served their country during the world wars of last century. One grandfather fought in World War 1 in France, while my other grandfather fought in World War 2 in Egypt and New Guinea. Both of them served in the Australian army. Fortunately, they both came home safely. Today we remember those who did not.

I have had the privilege of doing something for those who are serving today through the “Operation eBook Drop” program. This program, founded by author Edward C. Patterson and Smashwords founder Mark Coker puts eBook authors in touch with soldiers deployed away from home to provide free eBooks. If you are an author or publisher, I would recommend participating in this worthy cause. I have given away quite a few copies of my techno thriller novel Counting from Zero through this program.

Remember today the sacrifices of those in the past and those serving today.

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Books vs Bits


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about books vs ebooks, or books vs bits. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, as reading is undergoing a mini revolution due to technology.

I admit that I came to the ebook party fairly late. I read my first ebook after I got an iPhone and discovered Stanza and Project Gutenberg. I was amazed at all the books that were available. I think the first thing I did was download then read every novel by Jane Austen!  I hadn’t read a book on Kindle until just a few months ago, as I describe in my first blog entry My First Foray into Fiction.

Since then, I have published my first novel, Counting from Zero. The advantages and disadvantages of books and bits has become even more clear to me. For example, some advantages of ebooks:

  • It is wonderfully easy to give away copies of my ebook – I just email the EPUB file or a coupon to download it from Smashwords (BTW, a fantastic site for ebook distribution).  The recipient gets it immediately at no cost to me!
  • It was terrifically quick to get my book out there – Amazon only took a few hours, Smashwords took a few days, and it was even on Barnes & Noble and iBooks within a week or so!
  • One can carry an entire library in the palm of your hand, and it is always with you.  I love to just pull out my iPhone and read when I am stuck somewhere waiting, very pleasantly filling in what would otherwise have been wasted time.
But there are some disadvantages, too:
  • Some people just don’t have any reading devices for ebooks, and printing out pages on an inkjet printer, or trying to squint at a computer screen is no way to enjoy a book.
  • Your ebooks don’t end up on your bookshelf when you are done.  How will you rediscover them years from now, or how will friends or family happen upon them and ask about them and perhaps borrow them?  How will do you learn about friends and acquaintances without nosily browsing their bookshelf when visiting their house?
  • How do you loan or give away an ebook?
  • In some ways, an ebook doesn’t quite feel ‘real’.  I know it is silly, but there is nothing like a book in your hand.

Now, some of these things are slowly being solved.  For example, most people will have a tablet or phone with an ereader soon – I think the days of everyone owning a conventional desktop computer or laptop are really numbered (sorry Microsoft…).   Most people do not create content, they just consume it, and the computer requirements for this are much different.  Also, the security of these devices is so much better than a Windows PC, so this will really help with problems like botnets, but that is a topic for another day…

I recently discovered Shelfari and started putting up my bookshelf online, which I found kind of fun.  Goodreads lets you do this as well.  I’m not sure how well it works, but here is, my virtual bookshelf.

Loaning now is possible on Kindle and some other devices.  However, DRM (Digital Rights Management) protected ebooks will continue to be a problem.  Could you imagine a conventional book that wouldn’t let you read it unless it could verify your purchase license?

As for the feel and look, I’m not sure how this one will go away.  Perhaps paper books will always be with us, as a ‘backup’ to our digital versions.  If only the Library of Alexandria had backup stone or clay editions of those books…

This discussion leads me to today: I just opened a box containing the first printed version of my novel, Counting from Zero.

I did it using the print-on-demand service CreateSpace.  I must say, the process has been very smooth and nice so far.  I was able to upload a PDF of the interior and a PDF of the cover.  I created both with template files provided, and some work in Word and Photoshop.  There really are NO upfront costs.  As in none.  Zero, if you like!  This was the hardest thing for me to believe – I was sure there was some hidden fees or costs, but there aren’t.  Of course, most of the website describes various packages that provide support and services which do cost money.  However, look carefully and you will find a do-it-yourself option where you prepare and format all the files  yourself!

The only fee I have paid was a $39 Pro Plan which allows my book to be included in book store catalog distributions.  Otherwise, I only paid for copies of the proof book ($4) and shipping ($12 2nd day).  Once I OK the proofs, my book will be ready and can be purchased at Amazon!  Just amazing!

So, my proof copy looks really, really good!  CreateSpace has done an excellent job, and they have printed exactly what my PDF files showed.  I do need to fix a few formatting issues that I didn’t notice in the PDF files (and typesetting in Word is just awful!) Here are pictures of my ebook and my book…

Both books and bits have their pros and cons, and I expect both will be with us for a long time.  I’m just really, really excited to have Counting from Zero as a paperback now.  Look for it on Amazon in about a week or so!

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Enjoy “Read an E-Book Week”

Read an E-Book WeekThis week, March 6-12, 2011, is “Read an E-Book Week”. As a promotion, I am offering 50% off my techno thriller Counting from Zero on Smashwords. For this week, you can download it for $2.99 by using the code RAE50 at checkout for 50% off. Go to Smashwords and you should see it. This promotion expires on March 12, so don’t wait!

My first e-book experience was when I first got my iPhone and discovered Stanza. Using Project Gutenberg, I downloaded and read all kinds of 19th century fiction that I loved. I was surprised how much I liked reading on the iPhone, despite the screen size. I did not get a Kindle until a few months ago, when my daughter got one for Christmas, and again I was surprised. It really is similar to paper. For me, the proof of this came during a week when my laser printer was down, and I was deep in edits in the manuscript. Careful proof reading simply cannot be done on a computer screen – I always must print it out on paper. In desperation, I started using the Kindle for this proof reading, and it worked! I still missed being able to scribble notes and changes right on the screen, but it really was as good as paper. Then, I borrowed the Kindle to take with me on a trip, and I was able to proofread my new text and edits on the go when I was no where near a printer! My biggest issue with the Kindle is the lack of a backlight for nighttime reading, but there must be a technology reason why they could not provide this on the device.

So, I guess I am a convert to E-Books. There are still two areas in which ebooks come up short in my opinion. The first is being able to lend the book to others easily. Some of my favorite book discoveries have come through loans. However, this is changing in that Amazon now permits book lending if the publisher allows it, which is a step in the right direction. The other issue is that of a bookshelf. I don’t know about you, but when I walk into someone’s home or office for the first time, I always look over the bookshelf. You can learn a lot about a person, and it can be fun to see how many books you have in common. Perhaps we need a bookshelf app that displays our e-book shelf on the various flat screens throughout our house, or as a screen saver on computers. What do you think?

Some readers have also asked me about the irony of publishing my novel only as an e-book, while the protagonist in the novel, Mick O’Malley, does not read e-books for his personal reading. I must point out that Mick does read e-books for his professional and technical reading, but prefers paper and ink for his literature. I think he does this as a way of escaping from his immersion in the cyber world, where he spends so much time. Perhaps as his life changes, he may discover, as I have, how much fun e-books are.

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The Path to Publication

Counting from Zero Book Cover

Counting from Zero Book by Alan B. Johnston

In my first blog posting, I covered the writing the first draft of Counting from Zero.  I thought that was the hard part, until I realized the path in front of me to get to publication!

First, I needed feedback from readers, so I enlisted various friends and family, some in the publishing industry, some not.  My brother Chris was an early reviewer and gave me good feedback on the part on the water. (I’m being deliberately vague for to-be readers who haven’t yet read the book!)  I made quite a few tweaks and changes, and fixed seemingly a million typos and nits.  I probably went through four major drafts over a period of about eight months.  Fortunately, I had my IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) standards writing experience behind me, which had taught me how many revisions are sometimes needed before something is ready for publication.  I often describe IETF standards work as the ultimate peer reviewed documents.  For example, one of the documents I co-authored underwent 21 revisions over 9 years before it was finalized and published as an RFC document! (Here is only the latter part of the journey!)

Once I felt I had the manuscript ready, I had it copyedited and proofread.  I then wrote a one page ‘query letter’ to literary agents and began sending it all over.  I was shocked at how many agents will not accept a query from email!  They actually require you to kill a tree, pay money to the postal service, and have it delivered as snail mail – just so they can read it on a piece of paper!  I didn’t query any of those agents – if they are so last century in their business methods, would they even appreciate my high tech thriller?  Not likely!  I probably sent out about 120 queries in total.  I ended up getting about a dozen requests for a partial or full manuscript.  Then I waited… and waited… and waited.

Then the whole Wikileaks Internet wars started.  I knew something amazing was happening when I saw a USA Today headline that mentioned botnets!  The timing was right, and I could not wait forever (or more than 8 weeks) for someone to skim a manuscript.  I did eventually talk to one helpful agent that was interested, but she warned me that it would be about 6 months before she could get to work on it, and then it would likely take 12 months to land a publisher, and then it would likely be 12-18 months of publisher rewrites, edits, and process delays before it would be published!  And I thought the 6-8 month times I have had with my technical book publishers, Artech House and Wiley, was a long time!  For technology topics, these timelines are outrageously long!

So, I decided to take the plunge and self-publish.  It was not as difficult as it might seem, although writing the promotional material was really, really hard.  I had some help from friends in the industry, but that was definitely the hardest part.  I used an app from Amazon called ‘kindlegen’ which worked pretty well to product a .mobi file from a .html source file.  I was also pleased to be given the opportunity to sell my work the Amazon Kindle store without any DRM (Digital Rights Management), but that is a topic for another day…

I used the excellent online tools at Smashwords (great name!) to generate the other eBook formats, and I was quite happy with the results there, although there are a few font issues that I wasn’t able to fully resolve in all formats.  The community at Smashwords seems really great as well, and I look forward to getting involved there.

For me, the two best things about self publishing are that I kept creative control of the book (there isn’t anything in there I didn’t want) and that I published on my timeline, not anyone else’s.

So right now I am quite happy with the experience, and getting feedback from friends, family, and people I don’t know about my book is just the best!   Next time I’ll share some thoughts about my experiences using social media to promote self-published eBooks.

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