Saturday, April 16, 2011

Panel Discussion and Book Signing

I was honored to be a part of the panel discussion and book signing put on by the Rapid City Library.  It was an absolutely great turn out and I met all kinds of great people and authors.

I really hope everyone who attended got a lot from the discussion because I know I did.  There was a ton of information shared about publishing, distribution and printing.  There were several people that came up to talk to me and I thought it might be helpful if I posted here about my topic - digital publishing. 

I was so nervous I didn't follow my pre-written speech and got a little lost along the way.  I'd hoped to give more information than I did but since I didn't I'm going to post it here.

Please keep in mind, if you are going to use this blog for anything other than entertainment purposes, do your own research first.  Be sure that self publishing is the way you want to take your work and make sure the places you entrust your work to will do what you need done.  This post will cover a lot of ground and give only the basics.  There is an awful lot of information out there and what you will want to use completely depends on your target market.

I'm of the mind that self publishing is different for everyone.  For example, I didn't have a single problem uploading my books to Amazon Kindle but spoke with an author that found it an absolute nightmare.  It's different for all of us and maybe not the right thing for all of us either.

First of all, lets face it, writing can be a very personal experience.  Just because our stories are made up doesn't mean they don't hold a special place in our hearts.  For this reason, I self published without shopping my books around.  I like the control I keep with self publishing.  From what I've read and heard from fellow authors the work done by the self published author and the traditionally published author is very much the same.  Of course, there are benefits to being traditionally published that you can not find in the self publishing world, but it really does go both ways.  Each author has to decide for himself/herself which one is more appealing to them.

I was going to start out my presentation with some numbers to put digital publishing in perspective, so I will do that now.

Amazon has sold several million Kindles since 2007.  Some estimates have reported over ten-million Kindles have been sold.  That's ten-million Kindles, it does not include the Barnes & Noble Nook, the iPad or any other eReader device.  Also, Amazon has several free applications making it possible to read Kindle books on your computer, your phone and your iPod.  These free applications are also not included in that ten-million figure either. 

That's a lot of potential readers for any self or traditionally published author.  Back in January, Amazon reported that Kindle copies outsold paperbacks from their website.  I don't know if that trend will continue or not, but I'm guessing it will happen again.  This does not mean paper books are dead, it just means there are people out there willing to buy ebooks as well as paper copies.  No matter how you publish, digital has become a very important aspect that we can't afford to over look. 

Some big named authors, like Stephen King, are starting to put some work out on their own and Barry Eisler, author of Hard Rain and NYT Bestseller, turned down a $500,000 deal to self publish an upcoming title.  On the other end of the spectrum, Amanda Hocking tried for years to get agents and publishers interested in her work and finally decided to self publish what had been rejected numerous times.  Since she put her books out into the digital realm (I believe it was April of 2010), she's sold well over one million copies.  This caught the attention of agents and publishers who rallied at her door asking to represent and publish her next series.  She was recently offered a contract with St. Martin's Press for a four book deal with an approximate $2 million advance.

Those are the bigger numbers of the select few.  Digital publishing does not guarantee big sales or recognition.  Each author sees success or not as according to the whims of the readers and how hard they, the authors, work before and after making the book available.  However, selling a few copies here and there is much more appealing to me than writing query letters to agents and publishers and waiting, possibly months, for them to respond with a probable "No thanks."  I don't make enough money to pay all of my bills but I am making enough money to help pay the bills AND I'm being read. 

To give you some more perspective, I sold over 1000 digital books in less than a year.  That's better than I did with just paperback copies available and much better than sending out queries and not making any money.  However, I'm no where near being able to let my husband retire.

Now, I'm going to assume everyone reading this is considering self publishing.  If you are considering digital it is very easy to get started (from my experience).  You can go to Amazon.com and start an author account and upload a Word file.  They will convert it to a .mobi (the format used by Kindle) and put you up for sale on their website.  When I first uploaded, Kindle was the only place I could upload directly.  I had to use Smashwords.com to make my books available for B&N Nook, Apple's iBookstore and other online distributors like Sony (sold at Borders, I believe).

Recently, Barnes and Noble has added PubIt so authors can upload directly and if you have access to an Intel Mac you can upload directly to Apple.  I have remained with Smashwords for the time being because my books already have reviews and ratings that I would lose if I changed the distribution channels.

If you are taking notes, the places to check out are Amazon kdp (Kindle Direct Publishing), Smashwords.com (they have great tutorials for uploading Word files that work for the other distributors as well.  Smashwords also distributes to every outlet except Amazon Kindle.  For direct publishing with Barnes & Noble you can go to PubIt. 

Now that you have an idea of where to publish, you will need to focus on marketing.  It's best to start marketing before your books are available, get the word out.  You can send advanced readers copies (ARCs) to book blogger/reviewers, talk about your books on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and any other social media outlet you can find.  Get involved in places like Goodreads, Shelfari and other book related forums.  Kindleboards is a great one to meet readers and other authors.  It's recommended that you start your own website and blog.  I have a blog (hehe - you know this because you are here).  Generally, I post listings of other authors books to help them get the word out.  I don't have a huge following, but helping out other authors helps you.  They will help spread the word about your books as well.

Then we have paid ads.  There are literally hundreds of opportunities to spend money on ads.  Be careful what you choose.  A lot of them don't have a large enough following to recoup your money or might have a different audience than you need to reach.  What I write next will focus on internet ads but there are plenty of print ads that can be beneficial as well.  I'll leave the research for your particular book up to you.

That said, I've found Kindle Nation Daily (KND), eReader News Today (ENT) and Daily Cheap Reads (DCR) to be worthwhile investments for almost every genre. 

KND has over 7,000 subscribers so the odds of some of those people being interested in your genre is pretty good.  I believe his cheapest ad is $79.99 for a one day listing.  Not all that cheap, but I was very fortunate when my book was listed there.  My listed genre on his blog was "spy thriller" and I sold 122 books the day I was listed and 54 books during another free listing. 

ENT has become more and more popular but their ads remained at $25 for a one day listing when I last checked.  I also was fortunate enough to get a free listing as well as a paid listing at ENT.  The free listing brought me 47 sales and the paid listing brought me 55 sales.

DCR works a bit differently.  Again, at my last check, they were a free listing but your book must have at least five reviews on Amazon.  I made 61 sales the day I was listed at DCR.

The three aforementioned blogs are all largely subscribed to and read blogs and newsletters that can result in enough sales to justify the cost.  I made mention of free listings at KND and ENT but want to add here that those free listings were given to me because of scheduling mix-ups.  These blogs are scheduled well into the coming months and some scheduling mistakes happen from time to time.  I was a little upset each time this happened to me, but the blog owners are very generous and really try to keep their customers happy.  The mistakes turned out to be a boon for me.  NEVER turn down free advertising!  My advice to you, if it's free and the blogger is open to your genre - submit!

Earlier, I mentioned getting reviews.  Another piece of advice I will give is Do Not Pay for Reviews.  There are sites out there that will review your book for a fee.  They may say that the review is honest and it very well may be honest, but if your readers find out that the review was paid for they won't even consider it - honest or not, unless it's a negative review.  There are a lot of reviewers out there that will read and review your book if you send them a copy.  Some require paper copies but a lot have gone digital.  Just be sure not to submit a Horror novel to someone who requests only Romance.  Book blogs are around every corner on the internet, so to speak.  You just have to search out those that are compatible with your books.

Almost everyone has a Facebook page now-a-days.  If you don't, you really should.  Create a fanpage on Facebook.  It has a very easy step by step walk-through and if you run into any problems, Google is spectacular for finding information for you if you simply type in your question. 

Some authors create one page for each book they have out.  I chose to create an author profile and a fan page where I talk about all of my books.  It's easier for me to manage.

I have a Twitter account that is connected directly to my author fan page at Facebook.  Anything I post on my author page gets tweeted at Twitter.  Also, my blog is directly connected to my Facebook through Network Blogs (available through Facebook).

Finally, I will mention places like Shelfari, Goodreads and LibraryThing.  These are online places that cater to readers.  They help readers find books they might be interested in by connecting them with other readers and even authors.  Shelfari is affiliated with Amazon, Goodreads allows the author/publisher to offer free copies of their books in the hopes that the winner posts a review.  Library thing is still a bit of a mystery to me but essentially it's like the other two sites where you list what you've read and can make friends and get recommendations.

This was my intended speech for the panel discussion and I hope this information helps someone out there. 

I am not an expert on any of these matters.  I've just written what I've discovered in my travels through digital publishing and cyber space.  If anyone has any further questions or comments I'd love to hear from you in the comments section.  You can also reach me at authorjcphelps at yahoo dot com.

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