You’ve finished and published your first book, congratulations!
But now what do you do with it?
Well, if you’ve published through an online program like CreateSpace, Blurb or Lulu, then your book will be available on their websites, plus any of their partners, but what if you’ve had 1000 copies printed offshore and they’re sitting in your garage? What if you just want to see it on the shelf somewhere?
The idea of seeing your book sitting on the shelf in either bookstores or libraries is definitely appealing, but the cold, hard truth of it is that it is both difficult and unlikely to help pay the bills. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it!
Before approaching bookstores, you must have created the most professional looking book that you can; it must be almost indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. That means: well edited, properly printed and correctly formatted. It must have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). If you are publishing through the aforementioned companies, they will provide you with one, otherwise you must acquire your own, and you must have the bar code to match it (back cover, bottom left or right hand side is the traditional placement). This is essential, as it is how the bookstore will catalogue your book. Some bookstores may also prefer it to be listed on Nielsen Book Data.
Then, do some research. Small, independent bookstores are more likely to be approachable. The big, chain stores do not always make their purchasing decisions at store level and, although it is not impossible to get onto their shelves, it is no mean feat. Choose your target wisely, and make sure that the store actually stock books of your genre; some stores do specialise. Approach the staff member politely, introduce yourself and your purpose and ask to speak to the book buyer or manager, or arrange an appointment. Remember that different stores have different policies regarding independent authors, and respect their decision.
So, if you ARE accepted into a bookstore, what can you expect?
Book stores have three main ways of taking in independently published titles:
Consignment: they accept the books, and shelf them, but you do not get paid until, or unless, they sell. You can, pretty much, ask for the books back at any time (although some contracts may require you to give notice first), and you may be required to pay postage if they need to be delivered. They may require you to take them back after 3-6 months.
Sale or Return: The book store will pay you your wholesale price upfront (usually around a month after receiving the stock), but will agree to stock it for a set period, generally 3-6 months. After that period is over, you may be required to buy back your remaining stock at the amount they paid you for them.
Firm Sale: They pay you up front and they keep the book until it sells. It is highly unlikely that any retailer will agree to this without you proving that the stock will almost certainly sell. And you might find your books in the bargain/clearance bins at some point.
You will also need to determine your wholesale price, and from this your RRP (Recommended Retail Price).
Firstly, determine how much each copy of the book cost you to buy in the first place. You do not want to sell your book below cost, for obvious reasons!
Then you can figure out either how much profit you wish to make for selling the book to the retailer, and how much you would expect their customers to pay for it. For a rough idea of pricing, you might like to look at similar books in a range of stores first, or check out the information on a publisher’s website. Most list the RRP of their titles (just make sure it’s a New Zealand site).
Stores will be looking for a 35-50% margin, and if you are not GST registered, then they will also be taking GST into account.
Therefore, say you wish to charge the retailer $15 per copy of your book.
Firstly, they will add in the GST 15 x 1.15 = $17.25
Then they will add in their profit margin (let’s say 40%) $17.27 x 1.6 = $27.60
So you could set the RRP to $27.99
Whilst your book is in bookstores, it is considered good form not to undercut their pricing when selling direct; you should still charge $27.99 when selling copies to customers yourself.
I have spoken to two of the independent bookstores in Christchurch, and obtained permission to mention them by name.
With stores in Riccarton and the Central City, Scorpio Books are a local institute (they’ve been around almost 40 years) and have two beautiful stores. They are willing to consider independently published books on consignment, for a 3-6 month period. Although they are open to most types of books, they do stock a diverse range of fantasy and have a beautiful children’s section, as well as an indepth non-fiction (especially for “coffee table” books). It is helpful if your book is listed on Nielsen.
Piccadilly Books are a lovely bookstore/post office in Avonhead Mall. They will consider independently published titles on a sale or return basis, for the 3-6 month period. They favour new releases and specialise more in non-fiction and adult fiction, rather than young adult and children’s.
Some bookstores may only accept books via a distribution company. There are very few distribution companies in NZ, and even fewer that deal directly with independent authors (most deal with small printing houses). Indeed, the only one I can name offhand is Nationwide Books, in Oxford, North Canterbury.
- get upset if they turn you down. They are a business and shelf space is at a premium, also, they know their market better than you – if they don’t believe it will sell, then accept that.
- sneak a copy of your book onto the shelf in your local bookstore without their permission/knowledge. Worst case scenario, you could be accused of shop lifting should you try and remove it later. Best case scenario, if a customer ever does take it to the counter to purchase it, it will not scan through the tills, nor will the staff member know what to do with it. Also, you’ll never get paid anything from the sale, so you might as well leave it on a park bench.
- wander into bookstores and ask if they stock your book, without identifying yourself as the author. Whilst some staff members may find this amusing, others find it deceitful and disrespectful.
- wander into a bookstore and harass them for not stocking your book, or not stocking more than 2 copies of your book, or not putting your book in a prominent place, etc. It is their store, and their decision. Respect them.
Even more attractive than print-on-demand technology is digital – there are no upfront costs, your royalties are generally higher, your book will never go out of print, and it’s cheap enough that readers will be more willing to “take a risk” and buy it. But with all these digital players out there, which site is best for you?
Well, the advantage with digital books is that you don’t have to decide on just one site, you can join them all if you have the time or the inclination! But is it really worth it? Here, with a bit of help from my writer friends, I’m going to look at a few of the major ebook distributors so you can decide whether to keep it exclusive, or spread it around.
KDP are probably the biggest distributor of ebooks on the interwebs. I have three titles listed via Kindle and my sales have been slow, but I have made some (although not enough to reach the payment threshold).
What they offer:
- Free to join.
- Straightforward set-up.
- Pay royalties direct into your bank account (EFT).
- Popular marketplace.
- You can run promotions on your book: free days or countdowns (if enrolled in their KDP select).
- Entering your NZ tax number reduces the 30% taxation. Do not require US ITIN/EIN.
- Their ebook format is unique to their site (use a mobi converter or Scrivener).
- They do not keep a running total of earnings– you have to maintain your own records.
- Cannot set title to be permanently free (but there are ways around that, see below).
- You need to give Amazon exclusive rights if you want to take advantage of their special promotions (ie: not sell the ebook anywhere else).
What Smashwords offer:
- Free to join.
- A range of digital formats: epub, mobi, pdf and more.
- Their infamous “meat grinder” which turns your original file into the aforementioned formats automatically.
- You can price your book as “free” (if you set your book to free here, Amazon will price match).
- Will pay out via Paypal ($10 threshold).
- You can offer pre-orders.
- The meat grinder translator has issues with some format files (and instruction manual is written for Microsoft Word, not OpenOffice).
- Does not seem to be very popular with buyers.
- Seem to require a US tax number to avoid a 30% taxation on earnings (reduces to 10%).
- Smashword’s layout looks cheap and non-professional (petty, I know, but I do judge books – and websites – by their “covers”.)
When I first joined Kobo, it was really hard getting your book up on their website. You had to format everything, create a metadata file and upload it via FTP. Then they introduced Writers Life and things became so much simpler. I have had the epub (with colour illustrations) version of Fellowship listed on Kobo for years, but I just re-trialed the site by uploading Aroha’s Grand Adventure as well. The process was so quick and painless it was wonderful. Of course, in several years I’ve sold exactly 2 copies of Fellowship, but ah well, might as well make it available, right?
What Kobo offers:
- Free to join.
- Extremely easy and straightforward platform, allowing you to upload your epub formatted files, or translating alternative formats. It’s even easier than Amazon!
- Allows you to set your price in NZ$.
- Pay via EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) into your bank account after you reach the US$50 threshold (well, 45 days after).
- Royalties are 45/75% depending on sale price.
- Canadian company means no tax withheld and no ITIN required.
- Does not provide ISBN, but you don’t actually need them for ebooks. And you can get one here for free.
- Not as popular a marketplace as Amazon.
Wheelers: If your book is released in traditional form, it will automatically be listed on Wheelers book site, but ebooks need to be uploaded separately. Wheelers ebooks are available to schools and libraries. I signed up with Aroha’s Grand Adventure and get a lovely email once a month telling me I have no sales. The process is not too difficult as long as you have an ISBN, an epub file, metadata and a cover image, but is more time consuming (for little reward). Joining is done via email and involves filling in other forms as well.
iBooks: I have not looked too heavily into iBooks, as they seem to require you to have a Mac computer.From the website, their process looks fairly straightforward and very visually appealing, but appears more aimed at text books and pictorials.
Google Books: Are not accepting new authors at this time. Obviously more targeted at publishers rather than independent authors.
Note: ISBN numbers are linked to formats, so if you have your book available in paperback, hardback, and epub they should all have different ISBN numbers. However, most ebook sites don’t require them and will give you their own number instead.
In these days of print-on-demand and ebook technology, self (or independent) publishing has never been easier. No longer need we writers employ agents, or write query letters – now it is possible to write the story, edit it and put it up for the world to read.
But should we do that?
I made the decision in 2011, following my “win” in 2010’s NaNoWriMo, to independently publish my novel: Aroha’s Grand Adventure. This was, in part, because one of my prizes was a free proof copy via Amazon’s CreateSpace program. I wrote the novel over the month of November, creating the illustrations as I went, and received my first proof early in 2011. The book was available on Amazon by July 1st, 2011.
Over the next two years, I went on to release my second book, Midsummer Knight’s Quest (which had actually been written prior to Aroha’s) and the first in my Lemur Saga, Fellowship of the Ringtails. So, aside from the lure of the free book, what were the other reasons that inspired me to avoid the traditional publishing route altogether?
1. Rejection letters: OK, so I confess, I didn’t really try too hard to take the trad route. I DID submit my manuscript for Midsummer Knight’s Quest to my favourite children’s publishers, Chicken House, but with little hope and no success – although I do have a lovely rejection letter.
2. I felt my stories were a bit unconventional and unlikely to appeal to the publishing houses’ criteria. Midsummer Knight’s Quest was extremely long and broke some narrator conventions. I knew from the start that I was doing this, and was not entirely comfortable with it, but could see no way to adjust it within the plot. After several suggestions to split it into two books, I’ve currently withdrawn it from sale. As for Fellowship of the Ringtails, it seemed unlikely, even with the success of the Madagascar movies, that any of the “big 5” publishers would take a book about lemurs seriously and even if they did, they’d likely try to force it into the children’s section, meaning I would have to tone down the prose.
3. I wanted to keep control of my stories: if a publishing house purchases your story, it becomes their property. They chose the cover, the illustrators, and may make adjustments. In smaller publishing houses, you may be asked for your opinion, but generally speaking, your book is now out of your hands and your control.
Another advantage of independent publishing, especially via Print-on-Demand technology, is that your book never goes out of print – it’s available for people to purchase for as long as Amazon (or whomever you choose to print through) exist. The “shelf life” in a physical store, unless your book is particularly successful or you’re a popular author, is about 6 months. That’s it. After which it will likely be returned, and pulped, or cycled into the clearance bins. Bookstores cannot afford to keep stock on the shelf that isn’t selling. Most publishing houses will do smallish print runs for unknown/debut authors and, if they don’t sell well, they won’t print more. Of course, with ebooks this is a moot point: ebooks will never go out of print, they don’t take up shelf space or gather dust, and they don’t get shop soiled with time.
That’s not to say indie publishing is without its faults though, for there are many. There are no gatekeepers to indie publishing, so it becomes harder to know what is good and what is not, and some people may choose to self-edit instead of hiring a professional (by way of keeping costs down), which may lead a story to be prone to plot holes and typos or grammatical errors. I do not recommend self-editing. If you can afford it, hire a professional; if you cannot afford it, give proof copies to your grammar-nut friends and encourage them to read it with pencil in hand (they won’t be able to resist correcting the ones they find). But seriously, the editing of your story could make or break your success. Reviewers can, and will, point out the poor editing, and that makes it look very unprofessional to any potential readers.
Also, self-publishing is a lot of work, with very little financial reward. Not only do you have to write the book, but also edit it/have it edited, have a cover designed, format the manuscript so that it looks professional, figure out how to get it up for sale, work through your proof copies to find the typos that were missed and then, once it is finally finished and available for sale, figure out a way to actually sell it.
Because that’s the biggest problem with independent publishing, getting your book noticed. If anyone can do it, and everyone does, then there are millions of books available for sale. How do you make yours stand out among the crowd?
Well, step one is: make your book as professional and interesting and as well-written and edited as possible. Your book must stand by its own merits.
Step two is marketing, and you can learn more about that by attending our May workshop.
Ultimately: if you have a strong, well-written and highly commercial novel, there is no benefit to you rushing the process and self-publishing. If you believe your novel can sit next to James Patterson or Brandon Sanderson or another well-renowned genre-novelist, then there’s no harm in polishing your manuscript, penning a query letter and submitting to whichever of the publishing houses can best fill your needs. If you end up collecting rejection letters, then so be it, you can always fall back on self-publishing! If your novel is, however, a bit avant-garde, non-mainstream, unconventional, or you feel will only appeal to a limited market, then by all means, prepare for the complex and sometimes frustrating journey that is self-publishing.
Do I regret self-publishing? No. I don’t write for the money (which is good, because Amazon won’t pay out until you’ve earned more than $100 in any one Amazon store, and guess what – I’m only halfway there). I write for the characters and I write for my fans. And, most of all, I write for myself.
I do, however, regret rush-publishing Aroha’s Grand Adventure, because I believe, of all my novels, that it had the most commercial promise. And because I was still ironing out typos for months after the initial release. Don’t rush the process!
We will speak more about the self-publishing process in following blog posts, but you might like to check out this previous one on creating a mobi ebook.
If you wish to sell your ebook via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you first need to create a mobi file.
If you are using Scrivener, you don’t need to worry about this tutorial at all! Scrivener has its own abilities to output directly as a mobi file.
I, however, currently use OpenOffice. Which does not.
There are various programs you can use to do this conversion, but the one I use is known as Mobipocket Creator. It is available from this site: Mobipocket eBook Creator
You will need to download both the Creator and the Reader.
First off, you must have a completed manuscript and a cover. To prepare your manuscript for ebook conversion, remove all page numbers, disable footers and/or headers and format the layout as simplisitically as you can. The conversion process will leave in some quirks – including double-spacing between paragraphs – so you may need to translate several variations first.
If your file contains images, these should be on separate pages. Ebooks do not generally display pictures on the same page as text and you will find that the addition of images may involve large blank sections in the book. I have found it most appropriate to position images at the end of a chapter or scene, thus they do not disrupt the flow of text.
This is the home page of Mobipocket Creator:
Whilst various options for importing exist, I have found that the HTML document format gives the best finished result. Once you have removed all the footers and other peripherals from your document, you should save it as an HTML file.
Now click on import from existing file -> HTML document
You can then Browse for your HTML file and Import it.
This will bring you to this screen:
You should then work through each of the options on the left hand side.
Cover Image: Select the cover image from your computer. This should be of reasonable size, but not too big (because mobipocket creator has issues with extremely large images). Click Update to upload it. It will be resized automatically to an appropriate size by the files.
Table of Contents: I confess, I have never managed to successfully instal the Table of Contents. What it does is offer you a list at the beginning of all the chapters, with internal links in the ebook format to those chapters. It also allows the ereading device to show you how long you have on each chapter. As such, it is a very useful tool, and one I shall continue to play with until I figure it out. I suspect it may require the use of an HTML editing program.
Book Settings: You can set book type to “ebook”. Rest is probably irrelevant if your book is written in English and not a dictionary.
Metadata: Now this one is very useful. This is the data that is connected to your book and will aid in its distribution and hopefully encourage people to buy it. Fill in all applicable options. Note: ISBNs are unique to each version of each story, so if you have an ISBN number for a physical book it will NOT be the same as the digital version. Amazon assign their own number to ebooks and ISBNs are not necessary for this stage. I will do a later post re: ISBN numbers, how to obtain them and when you need them.
Main subject: Choose from the list, selecting the most appropriate option for your title.
Guide: I have so far ignored “Guide” but I suspect it is for the more technically inclined.
Once this is done, you can select Build from the top menu. Then Build from the screen that opens up.
Your ebook will now be created. Note that a Warning button may pop up, especially if either a, your cover illustration is too small or you’ve forgotten to upload it, or b, you have internal illustrations. See what the warning pertains to.
“Image file not found” comes up because the ebook is being built in a different folder from the one that your file has been saved into. There are two ways around this:
On the original screen, where you first uploaded your HTML manuscript, change the destination folder to the same folder that the original HTML file came from.
Or, as I generally do – transfer the image file from the original file into the destination folder, go back to Publications and Build the ebook once more.
Now, if there are no warnings then you can preview your book using the Mobipocket Reader you will have already installed. Click through it from beginning to end. You may notice a few funky things with formating (indented paragraphs, double spaces between paragraph breaks) and sometimes the font will seem to change size. If that happens, just double-check it by clicking back through it – it seems to be an issue with the Reader, not the actual mobi file. If you need to make any adjustments, go back to your original manuscript and repeat the process from the beginning until it is to your satisfaction.
Then it is time to move onto the next step:
Publishing your book through Kindle Direct Publishing.
(Tutorial to come)
We’ve all heard it said that what agents and publishers really want is someone who can write a good story. It’s the story that matters, the story that will make or break a publishing deal. And I’ve no doubt that is true.
But I’m sure we’ve also all heard it said that first impressions count. And, while it might be nice to think that we can just leave all that grammar and punctuation stuff to some future editor, it pays to make as positive an impression as possible to make sure that future editor will one day be secured. For sloppy grammar and punctuation is often a red flag for sloppy writing. And when you’ve only got a short space in which to convince a potential agent or publisher to continue reading your work, why not make the best impression you can?
For those of us raised in a school system that didn’t teach more than the basics of grammar and punctuation, the whole concept of getting good at it seems daunting. Many New Zealand English speakers don’t start to get a feeling for the grammar of their own language (let alone an adequate vocabulary to discuss it) until they start learning another. So most of us simply write as we speak – instinctively. But there are some useful tips we can learn to polish our grammar and punctuation skills. Which is lucky for us – because if we want to catch that agent/publisher’s eye, we want our writing to shine brighter than a rough diamond.
First tip coming up!