Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Kindle 4 – What do e-books mean for authors?

Since they are a new way of bringing your words out of your muse’s closet and into your reader’s hands, the answer should be quite a bit! Even if most of your current readers prefer paper format, e-books are likely to provide another income stream (or trickle) for authors as a new generation of readers discover the advantages of carrying an entire bookshelf around with them on one slim e-reader. Like it or not, ignoring e-books is no longer an option. As to how much attention you should pay them, much depends what stage you have reached in your career.

1. Highly promoted author under contract with a big publishing house.
You are one of the few people who don't need to read this series, because e-books will turn out to be just another nice income stream to join your paper royalties and audio book royalties and all the other kinds of royalties your publisher or agent handles for you. So you can happily trot off with your muse and dictate your next best-selling title from your champagne bath, or wherever else your muse feels happiest. (Muse: Champagne? I wish! I just have to make do with bubbles.)

2. Averagely-selling author with a small publishing house that may or may not have exploited your e-book rights.
You might be interested – if only so you understand what an e-book is and can use this understanding either to persuade your publisher to put your work in e-format, or give you back the rights so you can do this yourself.

3. An established author with a quirky, hard-to-sell manuscript that has not yet found a home.
You might be interested, especially if you’ve been thinking of self-publishing your manuscript but the upfront costs have held you back.

4. An author just starting out on their writing career with at least one manuscript in a fairly publishable state, who wants to get noticed by agents and publishers.
You’ll even more interested!

5. An author with a long career behind them and a stash of rights-reverted backlist titles gathering dust under their muse's bed.
You DEFINITELY need to read this series.

6. An author who has just signed a contract for their debut novel.
Congratulations. You’ll certainly have a lot of other things to think about right now, and won’t know yet which way your career will swing. But you might want to take notes and come back in a few years’ time...

Now for the good news! In case your muse has had her head buried in the sand for the past year, online bookseller amazon has now made it easy to self-publish your manuscript or rights-reverted backlist title through their Kindle Digital Platform (previously the digital text platform), after which they will make your e-book available for sale worldwide in their Kindle store alongside more traditionally published e-books. The publishing process costs nothing, except maybe the price of your book if you want to download a copy for yourself to check it out once it’s gone live. And you have the option of selecting a 70% royalty on all sales made in the US, UK and Canada, which is a lot better terms than you’ll get from any publishing contract.

If you don’t like being tied to amazon, there’s also the US-based Smashwords which will make your manuscript available in all the different e-book formats, including the format required for amazon’s Kindle. At first sight Smashwords seems the better option if you want a wide distribution, but as a UK-based muse with a mainly UK readership I have decided not to make my books available there for the time being because (a) the site is based in the US, which makes payment complicated for UK authors, (b) they do not support digital rights management so your book is wide open to piracy, and (c) the multitude of places they distribute your book makes it hard to control the price, which can affect your price on amazon – more details on the Kindle platform.

Starting next week I will concentrate on publishing a Kindle edition e-book with amazon the easiest way possible. I managed to make a basic e-book for my backlist title Spellfall without having to write any HTML code or use any kind of e-book building software, so in my next few posts I’ll take you through the steps required to do this. I created my e-book using Word 2000, but you should be able to do the same thing with most word processing programs. The only other things you’ll need are a broadband connection to access amazon’s Kindle Digital Text Platform, a bit of patience, and about a month to spare. You don’t even need a Kindle, because all the previewing software to test how your e-book looks is available for free download from amazon.

So, assuming you are not author type 1, are there any disadvantages before you take the plunge?

Promotion, obviously. As with any self-publishing venture, you have to do it all. But it could be worth your while, particularly if you already have an audience for your work and are e-publishing your backlist titles. And much promotion can be done online these days, which perfectly suits the e-book format because, unlike with paper copies, distribution is so quick and easy.

Even if you don’t have an audience yet, it could be a way of gaining one. There have been some spectacular success stories of debut novels published with amazon.com that have found their readership on Kindle and been picked off the best-seller list by mainstream publishers and agents. And if your book doesn’t sell, what have you lost by trying? At least you haven’t got several boxes of unsold copies piled high in your garage. Just quietly unpublish your e-book, and nobody will be the wiser. This also applies if you are worried the e-book might stop you from landing a mainstream contract - if you later decide to license your rights to someone else, you can unpublish your e-book within a few days.

Curious? Next time I’ll discuss formatting your Word manuscript for Kindle, so you’ve got a week to find your muse and knock your masterpiece into shape… good luck, and I hope your muse is as excited as mine!

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