Update: Publica

Hullo boys and girls, Alianne checking in again all quick-like because this was too good not to share. Remember this post where I talked about the new kid on the block, Publica? Well, I’m signed up for their newsletter and one of their most recent ones announced that they are looking for authors to publish their books through their systems now. Ground floor entry, if you have a book ready to release this year. For now, the process is to fill out an interest form here, and they’ll contact you with additional info if you’re chosen.

If you’re still not convinced, or if you’re as confused about the entire process as I was, check out the video below, which explains the technology in very simple terms. Hint: Pay very close attention to the resale capabilities, where readers can resell their copy of your book to others, and you get a percentage of that sale.

As authors, we’re always looking for new readers, but as self-publishers, we also have to look for better ways to sell our books. Call me a bright-eyed idealist, but I think this may be it. ūüôā

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Opinion: Addressing the Chaos

There’s been a lot of stuff happening in the book world recently that’s kind of sort of turning things inside out and upside down. It’s big enough that it warrants a post (warning: it’ll be long), so I’m going to address two things I’ve seen floating around: #Cockygate and the recent blunder by Amazon. But first, a disclaimer: Everything in this post is my observation and opinion. I will not be linking external sources because I trust that those who want to know more will find ample sources all on their own, and I don’t want to add to the viral nature of this mess. Basically, I’m chiming in, but urging everyone to do their own homework and not take my word for it.

So here we go…

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Why Self-Published Authors Are Amazing

If you’re following my blog, you’ve seen me post some rants about this or that. I do it to air out my own personal grievances, but also to shed some light on current events happening in the book world. Cathartic and educational. Win-win.

But today, I want to do something different. Today I want to tip my hat and give a nod to every self-published author out there, because the Indie community is a truly amazing and humbling place. Yes, it has its problems–all communities do–but on the whole, its members are some of the kindest, bravest, most supportive, most intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Too often, the label of “Indie author” or “self-published author” still evokes the unfair stigma of being sub par, unworthy when compared to authors on the other side of that gilded line of traditional publishing. Today, I want to show you why that is just not true. I want to show you that Self-Published Authors are…

…Creative

It goes without saying that writing a story takes massive amounts of creativity, no matter how that story gets published. But the creativity of a self-published author goes beyond the story to everything around it. There are authors who make their own book covers, create their own marketing campaigns, even manufacture their own giveaway swag. The beauty of self-publishing is that there are no limits or restrictions on what we can do.

…Resourceful

When there’s no one to keep you on the straight and narrow, you have to forge your own way. That includes learning as you go, figuring out how things are done, and finding resources to do it. Publishing is an expensive business, and rare is the author with more than a shoestring budget. That makes self-published authors very good at forging mutually beneficial relationships, finding the best deals, and the least expensive (yet still just as effective) tools.

…Supportive

On the whole, self-published authors tend to view each other as colleagues, not competitors. They network, share recommendations, offer support, guidance, and encouragement, and even help each other promote each other’s books. What other industry do you know of where this is the norm?

…Entrepreneurial

Regardless of the way your books get out there, as soon as they do, you officially become a small business owner. But for self-published authors, that definition goes deeper and far wider. They are in charge of it all, from editing to intellectual rights management, and everything in between and beyond. That means an Indie author is a writer, a publisher, an accountant, a PR guru, and a public figure all at the same time. That’s a lot of hats to wear. But don’t they look fabulous?

…Trailblazers

Bypassing the traditional publisher gauntlet allows self-published authors to bring fresh, new ideas straight to the reader. They are on the bleeding edge of fiction, inventing and defining new genres, and bringing us amazing stories publishers never knew readers have been yearning for.

…Trend-setters

By virtue of necessity, self-published authors have to look beyond what¬†is to what¬†is possible. Being unfettered by a set of house rules, they are free to explore the possibilities, take risks, and discover new ways of doing things–and they share their discoveries with each other, and with traditionally published authors, as well.¬† They open doors few people knew even existed–including self-publishing itself.¬†Let’s give credit where credit is due: A great many Indie authors chose this path not because they were rejected by publishers, but because they never wanted that approval in the first place. And many others chose to leave their publishers for the express purpose of publishing independently. This is not the course of last resort detractors would have you believe it is.

…Generous

Self-published authors have the freedom and opportunity to do things traditionally published authors simply cannot do. They can share as much of their new releases for “preview” as they like; set their own pricing to super low, even free; and give away as many book copies to as many people as tickle their fancy. In fact, the community is known for this more than anything else.

…Approachable

The great thing about bypassing the middleman (publishing house) is that it brings self-published authors in direct contact with their readers. Their success is directly dependent not just on how well they write, but how well they interact with their readers, which makes Indies the most welcoming and approachable of authors online, as well as in person.

…Nonconformists

Sometimes, rules are in place to protect the wrong interests. Sometimes, those rules need to be broken, and self-published authors aren’t afraid to band together, take a stand, and make their voices heard for the good of the whole ecosystem. Indies changed the face of the industry in a matter of a handful of years, and while publishing houses are still scrambling to adapt, Indies aren’t finished yet.

…Professional Storytellers

Emphasis on¬†professional. That little detail tends to be conveniently overlooked whenever someone trash talks self-published authors. Are there bad apples in the bunch? Absolutely. The same is true for traditionally published authors. But look at the talents that, against all odds, had broken through every barrier, hit the bestseller lists and taken off like one of Elon Musk’s rockets.¬†That is the standard all Indies are striving for. On the whole, when everything else is stripped away, an author is a story teller at heart, and their passion is to tell the best story they possibly can. The best part about self-published authors is that their story will be all their own, unfiltered, uncensored, and free of any cookie cutter standardization.

And for all these reasons…

If you haven’t read an Indie book, I highly recommend you give them a try. You may be pleasantly surprised. ūüėČ

Smashwords Partners With Findaway Voices

On March 21st, Smashwords announced it was partnering with Findaway Voices to help their Indie authors with the beginning stages of audiobook production. In the blog post, Mark Coker shared the basics of the partnership and his observations on how audiobooks are a growing market and a new opportunity for a wider audience for Indie authors.

It was all great news. What the blog post didn’t share, however, were some additional details I later found in this Forbes article where Mark Coker contributed an interview.

Here’s the deets:

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The Amazon Vise Cinches Tighter

Don’t worry, this won’t be a rant, or an Indie self-pity post. My aim is only to present my observations. A couple of days ago, a fellow Indie author sent me a private message with a link to a blog post talking about Amazon’s latest hijinks. I didn’t think much of it at the time, since I was still half out of my head with the flu, but then I slept on it, and slept on it some more, and the more I thought about it the more it bothered me.

Take a look at the two images below. See if you can spot a difference:

I’ll give you a hint: Look at the green text in the Buy New box. See it?

The first picture is of the original edition of my paperback novel, published through CreateSpace. The second is the newest edition published through IngramSpark. And the two images together illustrate Amazon’s latest policy to disrupt the supply and demand equation to skew it in their own favor. Since they are both print-on-demand, there is literally no difference between a CS and IS book purchase, other than Amazon makes more money on the CS one. But the different ways they are displayed could make a huge difference in which version (if any) a reader will choose to buy.

It preys on a customer’s need for instant gratification

Amazon has built their very successful business model on two things, one of which is their ability to deliver your purchases faster and cheaper than any other retailer. By slapping on a notice that effectively tells shoppers they will have to wait longer for their copy of the book, they are creating an instant subconscious disappointment and dissatisfaction in the product before the customer has even had a chance to get it.

It creates an artificial sense of scarcity

Amazon’s second cornerstone of business is unrivaled levels of inventory. Amazon is Aladdin’s cave of wonders. They have anything and everything, and they have boatloads of it for people to buy. That’s what keeps shoppers coming back. The new notice on the product page sends the message that this particular item is out of stock, which inadvertently reflects badly on the publisher (in this case, the self-published author) for failing to anticipate demand.

It creates unfair competition

Okay, to be fair, this is Amazon’s own store, and they have every right to try to put their own products forward as best as they can. It’d be stupid of them not to. But it goes much deeper than that. Think about it. Amazon now has the largest piece of the market pie when it comes to books and eBooks. Every measure they have taken so far has been aimed to solidify their stronghold on that market share, or to increase it. They do it through exclusivity, through undercutting competitor prices (seriously, their ToS flat-out state that if you publish a book on Amazon, the price has to be equal to or smaller than at any other retailer), and through policies and algorithms that create advantages for those who play along, and massive hurdles for those who don’t. With this new measure, they are basically saying, “If you want to actually sell your self-published print volumes, you need to publish them through us.” This is why other bookstores don’t want to play with you, Amazon.

So where does that leave Indie authors? 

Between a rock and a hard place.

Once again, we are forced to either straddle the fence, or make a difficult choice between going wide, and going deep. If you publish through CreateSpace alone, odds are good your book will never be stocked on store shelves, because no store will want to buy product from their direct competitor. If you choose to publish through a different service, such as IngramSpark, your chances of getting a book into physical stores might be slightly better, but now it’ll have to jump through hoops on Amazon, which is still the biggest bookseller and generates the highest royalties income of all other retailers for most authors.

Nothing says you can’t do both. In fact, the blog I read advised just that: Publish your book both through IngramSpark and CreateSpace, and then contact Amazon and tell them to source the book through CreateSpace so it always shows as in stock.

But I have a problem with this strategy. It as good as flushes a chunk of the money you invested into an IngramSpark distribution down the toilet. It’s like you’re saying, “Hey, I spent a boatload to get these books published through this other source, but you guys don’t like it, so that’s cool. I’m just not gonna advertise those editions where I am most likely to get the greatest number of sales for them. Still friends? Sweet.”

Yeah, I’m stubborn, and not much of a team player (which is probably why I will never make any real money from book sales…). I deliberately priced my IngramSpark editions slightly lower to play Amazon’s algorithms so that the new versions would show up on top. I did this, because I want those gorgeous new covers to show up in search results. I didn’t want all that effort, months and months of hard work, to drop into obscurity. But I’m also not an idiot, and I am keeping an eye on this new development and making sure to let my readers know 2 things loud and clear:

(1) My books are absolutely 100% available at Amazon, and there is 0% difference in shipping & handling time between the CreateSpace and IngramSpark versions; and

(2) Those same books can also be found at other retailers, often times at a discount that might be a better deal than Amazon.

A Potential New Player(?)

By now, everyone has heard of Bitcoin. Bitcoin is all the rage. For a few days in January, even the news reported on the massive spike in value of Bitcoin, and Warren Buffet came out with a statement predicting its downfall (article here). To be honest, I rarely pay attention to the stock market, and I was only aware of the concept of Bitcoin in the vaguest possible way of it being a “fake currency.” Well, when that article came out, I started paying attention. I found a few more, read up on it a bit, with most of what I found going way over my head, but what I retained was this:

Bitcoin is like an apple tree. It’s one of several different kinds of trees, that just happens to have grown the biggest. But all those trees are rooted in a framework that is very,¬†very¬†interesting to me. It’s essentially a new system of virtual accounting that adds a third entry to the standard double-entry style of bookkeeping. That’s already confusing, so let’s break it down:

In traditional accounting, every time money changes hands, two entries have to be made in the books. The first is the money going out, and the second is something else coming in. That way, there is always a record of how much money is being spent and what it’s being spent on. In this new way of accounting, the third entry marks the transaction, which adds additional details. It’s not just what was bought and for how much, it’s who bought it, when, and where. As long as the purchased item stays within this realm, this record keeping then continues down the line each time it changes hands, so you can track a particular item from its most recent buyer all the way back to the production facility, and farther back to the facilities where all its different components and ingredients came from. It essentially records the total life of that item.

As soon as I read this, it hit me that this could potentially be the solution all authors have been waiting for: an end to digital piracy. If every single eBook were to be tracked this way, then every single pirated eBook could be tracked back to the original pirate. Not only that, the system could identify every single pirated copy and there is a lot we could do with that info, starting with disabling those copies and making them unreadable, and ending with having hard evidence for prosecution.

Fast forward about a month. I received an email newsletter from IngramSpark, telling me they will be featured as an exhibitor at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. Since that’s in my neck of the woods, I checked out the event, browsed through the exhibitors, and found something I never heard of before. I clicked the link, and discovered that someone out there had the same thought I did, and is actually putting it into practice. There is this platform called¬†Publica, which doesn’t seem to be open to authors just yet, but will be soon. It is built on, and will operate on the concept of cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin), and promises the elimination of the middleman, taking an author’s books directly to the reader.

Of course, in practice, that just makes Publica another self-publishing platform. It’s still questionable whether they would be able to compete with Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other eBook platforms, and I still have a lot of unanswered questions. I submitted those questions to them, and am waiting for a response but, if I understand this correctly, and if it actually works, then I want in. Now.

The concept of this new system of accounting is still in its infancy, but more and more companies are embracing it, and each time a company announces it, their stocks go up. The problem is, each of them has their own cryptocurrency, which is going to cause issues in the future, if every time you want to buy a product from one of them, you have to do a currency exchange first. My prediction, however, is that cryptocurrency will be the future. Once enough companies jump on board, the normalization will begin, and a unified currency will replace all the others.

For now, I see Publica as a pioneer. Whether or not they’ll be able to make it work in the long run isn’t even the point anymore. Could be in six months someone else will have put Publica out of business with a better, more streamlined, more accessible system. Could be this is a sign of a brand new industry being born. Publica is opening new doors, forging the path for others to follow.¬† The point is, the possibility is now there, and it is real, and I really, really hope it’ll help right some imbalances for authors, artists, musicians, and others who rely on the sale of their own unique products for a living.

It will also upset a whole lot of people for whom this means an end of an era, and those people will fight tooth and nail to keep it from coming to fruition. The ultimate potential for all of this is an end to money as we know it, which would put a lot of banks out of business, and majorly disrupt our stock markets, etc. (Plot bunny, anyone?)

Then again, it could also be nothing. Reminiscent of the dotcom era, it could all be a massive bubble that will eventually burst. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I will definitely be keeping an eye on this, for sure.

ETA: Here are the responses I received to my questions:

1. Publica is a distribution channel, so where does it distribute to?

Authors can use Publica and blockchain to publish their books. Authors can sell their books to Publica tokenholders / platform users and protome a book to their existing customer base. Once a book is published on the platform, readers will be able to find a book using search or by entering a direct link (that can be promoted by author). Authors can continue to use their existing promotional channels.

2. If my books are already published through another platform, will there be a conflict?

No, it’s not a problem. If there are no legal limitations that allow an¬†author¬†to publish a book only on a specific platform, a¬†book¬†can be distributed through several¬†platforms.

3. Do readers need a special app to access the books? If so, what format will it support/require?

We are currently developing e-reader app that will serve double duty as wallet and e-book reader. The app will support popular e-book formats (like ePub).

Feel free to check our live AMA session, CEO Josef Marc answering question about supported formats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjAZg8_i8fo&t=2872s

4. If everything is done in PBL currency, how does an author redeem earnings in real currency?

Authors will be able to exchange PBL tokens to fiat money (for instance, USD or EUR).

5. Does the platform have protection measures against digital piracy?

By using a token as an access key to digital content, only actual tokenholders can access their purchased content. Readers (tokenholders) can give away or sell their tokens, and ownership/access to the content will be transferred to the new tokenholder. Blockchain technology is making the whole process transparent and decentralized.

Opinion: Pricing eBooks Free

This is something that popped up in my Facebook memories. I was going to reshare, but then realized it might be a good discussion topic for this blog, so here we are.

The Background

Two years ago today, Kristen Lamb posted this article on her blog: A Culture Addicted to FREE‚ÄĒHow FREE is Poisoning the Internet & Killing the Creatives. It’s worth a read if you have a few minutes. When it went live, I shared it on Facebook with a long comment which I don’t want to repeat, but which you can read here. The free book I was talking about was¬†The Beast, my very own twist on the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast.

The Here and Now

Well, two years have now passed since Ms. Lamb’s blog post, and not much has changed, except that fewer people are willing to talk about it anymore. Smashwords CEO Mark Coker recently released the 2018 updated edition of his Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, in which his advice to authors still includes a strategy of pricing at least one book as free, and if you have a series, price the first book as free, despite his gloomy 2018 Publishing Predictions blog post, in which he predicted an increased glut of high-quality, low cost eBooks, and the demise of independent publishing by a rising, Amazon-dependent model.

It would seem like the two ideas are counter-intuitive. Why tell authors to play into their own downfall, rather than rally the troops to make a unified stand against it and demand fair treatment and recompense? But really it’s only a progression of cause-to-effect, and Mr. Coker is only doing what he feels will benefit authors most in this new climate.

How did we even get here?

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Opinion: Author vs. Publisher Branding

I posted a question on my Facebook profile yesterday that I didn’t expect to get as much attention as it did. I am still getting and answering comments today, and it’s drawing me away from the novella I was dead set on writing today and into an internal debate I am slowly unraveling into something that might come close to a coherent opinion on the matter. The question was:

What is your opinion on authors having their own logos?

By “logos” I didn’t mean a specific, uniform way their name appears on their books, websites, and other marketing materials. I literally meant a symbol that represents the author’s brand (something like the Nike swoosh symbol) as separate from their publisher logo, or series logo. Opinions were fairly evenly split between those who believe it’s tacky, to those who believe an author’s brand is absolutely worth marketing and logos are a powerful way to do that. Some back-and-forth happened, and the discussion turned to traditionally published authors vs. self-published authors, and author brand vs. publisher brand.

Of course, every self-published author is, in fact, a publisher. Therefore, one argument stated, a self-published author can absolutely have a logo, because they are their own imprint, and just as valuable as any other publishing house out there, so they deserve to brand and market that.

I don’t disagree with any of that. However, I do draw a solid distinction for myself as a self-published author between what I do when I write, and what I do when I publish what I write, and that distinction dictates what it is I want to brand and market in the first place. What follows is my own personal opinion, not to be construed as word of law, or any sort of authority on the matter. I welcome any counter arguments and commentary in general. Please do chime in in the comments below.

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2018 Industry Predictions

Every year, Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords puts out a long post of predictions for the near future of the Indie book industry. He is usually pretty spot on, so every year, I spend a few minutes reading what he has to say. Today, there are two posts I want to share:

2017 Year in Review and 2018 Preview

2018 Book Industry Predictions

My main take-away from this post is perfectly summed up in this one sentence:¬†“Fair competition at Amazon does not exist.”¬†

If you’re at all serious about being or becoming an author, whether you are traditionally published or self-published, do yourself a favor and read these two posts.

IngramSpark Part 3: The Little Things

For my last trick, I have a few little details and opinions to share about IngramSpark. They are all things I either contacted IS about, or researched online because I had lingering questions after I read their guidebooks and FAQs.

A note to start: IngramSpark’s online chat is great if you have questions. They’ll ask your account number and ISBN for the book you have issues with, and they’ll be able to help you then and there. It’s the most efficient way to get assistance. Email takes a few days for a response, which isn’t ideal, and I haven’t tried the phone support yet.

Since this turned out somewhat longer than I originally intended, I sorted it all into sections again.

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