I feel like we’ve heard this before but it still sucks

You can go back through the archives of this blog, hardly an authority on anything (unless AI content farming has really killed off every other blog and then maybe we are), and you can see so many instances of “This is going to kill [some aspect of the publishing world]” and largely it just hasn’t happened.

This one does sound bad. SPD, one of the last small distributors, is going under. They’re doing it quickly, and so far leaving some clients unpaid. It’s already incredibly hard as a small author to get your book noticed by the mainstream, and if nothing else steps in to fill the void left by SPD’s demise, it’s going to be a whole lot harder. People are very stubbornly clinging to their paper books, and while I don’t entirely blame them, it’s just not sustainable going forward.

I have a fair bit of faith in authors and their ability to pivot, but we keep making it harder on them and that’s no way to encourage creation.

For example, Kameron Hurley is one author offering a monthly Patreon subscription where you get exclusive stuff. It’s cool. I absolutely love her universe where some people can inhabit corpses. It’s a really well-developed universe that she has sadly (to me, at least) not written nearly enough in. But plugging an author I like is not the point (though it’s a bonus). This is all extra work. It used to be you could just be an author and your agent would work and get your books in front of people. Maybe that worked and maybe it didn’t, but that was about it. Now authors have way more opportunity but also way more hats they have to wear.

We’ve been talking for a decade at least about alternate paths to success for authors and they mostly haven’t materialized. Maybe authors should try using the electrical output of a mid-sized country to write a book and maybe Silicon Valley would take notice and throw some venture capital at them.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the Kindle were more open

Bad news for Kindle readers, especially the less computer-savvy.

But it is worth noting at this juncture that Amazon appears to have made a business decision, at least for now, that “free” will play an increasingly limited role in the Kindle Store

Amazon certainly has a right to shift focus and resources from free and public domain books to the books they’re trying to sell.  But it’s pretty disappointing.  For many people, unfortunately, the Kindle is the ebook reader.  It’s done wonders in showing the non-technical part of the population that ebooks and readers are out there.  But it’s these very same non-technical people who are likely to get all their reading material from the Kindle store, which is of course what Amazon wants.  They’ve put up all sorts of hoops to jump through if you want to put other content on the Kindle.

And so these non-technical people are effectively cut off from public domain books, or books from other publishers who can’t or won’t play ball with Amazon’s restrictions on the Kindle.

Also disappointing is that Amazon doesn’t want to deal with free promotional titles.

The number of free promotional titles has been dwindling since August, and no new free promotional titles have been added this month despite numerous publisher requests to offer free titles.

There is no question that free promotional titles can grow your fanbase.  Two of my favorite science fiction authors reeled me in with free ebooks (here and here).  I’ve since not only bought books from them, but pre-ordered a couple.  Again, Amazon certainly has a right to do what they’re doing.  I’d just rather they chose not to.

Fortunately, it keeps plenty of room in the ebook market and the ebook reader market for others to come in and fill the holes.

Article:  Kindle Nation Daily: Honey, They’re Shrinking “Free” in the Kindle Store via Teleread.

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It’s hard not to hate Dan Brown

But we should try. I mean, unless you know something I don’t – I assume he’s a perfectly pleasant guy. But it’s pretty much Dan Brown, then everyone else (See here via here).  Of course we’ll be at least a little annoyed at the guy who’s lapping the field.

And of course, we tell ourselves we don’t think this way, but we really do – we secretly maintain that anyone that popular can’t be any good.  If it appeals that strongly to the unwashed masses, it must be beneath us, the civilized and knowing.

The question comes down to, “Is Dan Brown’s success good or bad for other authors?”  It appears that, as his sales go up, overall sales are going down.  Dan Brown is an ever-increasing piece of a shrinking pie.  When the US economy turns around, maybe the pie will expand a bit again.  But for now, it’s his world.

Maybe I’m an optimist, but I think his success is good for authors.

He’s proving that people will buy (and perhaps more importantly, read) books if you get them excited.  Some may complain that it’s only the very biggest and most popular writers who are getting this kind of marketing and attention, and that the lesser-known authors are being ignored.  This may be true, but I choose to see that as opportunity rather than tragedy.  People are buying books.  If they aren’t buying yours, maybe you aren’t getting them excited enough.  But that means there’s something you can do.

If no one is buying any books, then authors are in trouble.  But if people are buying books, just not yours, then you have opportunity.  You can do a better job of selling your book, of promoting your book.  Maybe you even write a better book.  But you can do something.

I wish Dan Brown the best, though he doesn’t seem to need it.  And I’m excited about the opportunity to get people excited about books not by Dan Brown.

Word count limits don’t have to happen

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while.

I would say that the absolute upper limit of OK is 100,000 for a debut novel, but you’ll find some people turned off to it if it’s anything above 80,000.

I’m not making these numbers up from my experience–I’ve read identical stats on a lot of agent blogs. It’s pretty much an industry standard.

There is effectively a hard cap on the number of words you can have in your debut novel.  More words equals more expensive to print, and a new author is too risky.

That sucks.

Let’s assume that we’re talking about a book that 1) would have a reasonable audience if it were published, and 2) would be significantly harmed by chopping words off until it got under the cap.  That is, this cap is the only thing keeping it from being published.  So how do we fix this?  How do we get these books out where the author can make some money, and people can experience a book from a new author?

Well, the simple answer is to remove the risk.

Luckily, digital distribution and print-on-demand makes it much easier to do just that.  The up front costs are much lower, which allows the non-traditional publisher to take risks that a traditional publisher couldn’t dream of.  There are no expensive print runs, or extra books to be pulped.

If you’re interested, let us know.  We’re still on track for a November launch of ManfredMacx.com, and we’d love to talk to interested authors.

Introducing Manfred Macx

It gives me great pleasure to introduce you all to Manfred Macx, a new kind of publishing company.  It’s not a new idea – bands big and small have been doing it for a while, and authors are just starting to try.  But as more and more of our media of all kinds is being distributed digitally, where making an extra copy (or a thousand) is nearly instantaneous and effectively free, we have to rethink the way we compensate creators of content.

At Manfred Macx, the author has a book, and the author has a goal, a target dollar amount that unlocks the electronic version of the book.  The author can sell almost anything;  Paper copies of the book, dinner with the author at a fancy restaurant, a character in the book named after you – whatever.  When the target goal is reached, everyone gets the ebook.

Beyond that, Manfred Macx is creating a community around authors and fans, fostering communication and connection in ways that weren’t possible before the internet changed our lives.

Watch this space for updates, or sign up for the mailing list.  We’re looking for authors right now, and expect the site to go live in November.

It’s about time someone automated this process

In order to facilitate the process of connecting writers with publishers, then, these two Millennials are building what you might call a digital social marketplace for books. Not eBooks, primarily, though WordHustler is optimized for Amazon’s Kindle and iPhones, but physical books. “We didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, just to make the wheel turn better,” Walls explains.

This is good news. Over at WordHustler, they’ll take your digital manuscript and submit it to publishers, as well as provide all sorts of tools to help you along the way.  Looking at their FAQ, they understand giving away the stuff that doesn’t cost them much (or anything) and selling the stuff that’s hard.  You can search their database for free, and even bypass all of their services and go straight to the publisher.  But they’re betting that they can print and ship your manuscript and handle it properly at a price that makes it worthwhile to pay them instead of trying it yourself.

When you have a valuable service to sell, it makes sense to give away the related things that promote your service and make it more valuable.

Now, they need to take it one step further.  What about the people who don’t find a publisher?  Or who don’t want a publisher in the traditional sense?  WordHustler already has the digital version of all the manuscripts.  It’s a small step from there to a “store” full of free ebooks.  Rather than gathering dust on the author’s shelf, rejected manuscripts have a new chance at life.  And giving them away for free means that they may still find their niche, making it much easier to find a market for the next book.

And then there are those who aren’t interested in finding a traditional publishing outlet.  There are many more ways to get a book into people’s hands and make money.  Sometimes it doesn’t involve a book at all.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The site sounds really helpful.  If you have something you’re trying to get published, go check them out.

Article:  BNET Media Blog | WordHustler Aims to Build Digital Marketplace for Book Publishing

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Ebooks – will we ever learn?

There’s a long and interesting article at Ars Technica from a guy who’s been in the ebook business for a long time.  His point is, basically, that everyone has gotten it wrong for the last ten years, making the same mistakes, over and over.  And the big players today are still making those mistakes.

He lists many of them, and most will sound familiar – Ebooks are too expensive;  DRM hurts honest customers and doesn’t do a thing to stop piracy, which is a vastly overstated problem anyway;  No one has tried anything really and truly new with ebooks.

It’s all a little depressing.  I was hoping he’d get to some brilliant idea to save the book industry, but he never really does.  But he gets it – he sees the ridiculous state of the industry now, stubbornly clinging to the old way of doing things instead of embracing all the new things you just couldn’t do before.

The world is still looking for publishing business models that work and will continue to work when all books are ebooks.  Someone could make a lot of money . . .

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All signs point to a new Kindle

Amazon press conference on 2/9: I can haz kindle too?.

Interesting article at CrunchGear about the upcoming Amazon press conference.  It seems very likely that the second generation Kindle will be announced.

More interesting, though, since it’s been widely assumed that the new Kindle is coming out early this year, is the wish in one of the comments for the ability to resell an ebook purchased for the Kindle.  This is not going to happen, and it’s a big reason why ebooks are going to have to wait to become a real part of the mainstream.

There are two possible ways in which it might be possible to resell ebooks, and neither of them works.

First, you could apply DRM to the ebooks.  This removes the concept of ownership – it is impossible to own something that can be revoked by the “seller” at any moment (see here, here, here, and here).  Without owning the ebook, any reselling would have to go through the original “seller”.  The DRM would have to be transferred in some way, and the new “owner” would still depend on some indifferent third party to allow access to the content.  This third party will be incurring costs for each transaction, and would be crazy not to pass these costs onto the customer.

So every time you “sold” the property you “own”, the original seller would take another cut.  And what happens when they decide to stop supporting the DRM anymore?  It’s bad enough if you’ve bought from someone and they take back what you bought.  What if you buy from someone and someone else takes back what you’ve bought? In almost every case, the reseller could make more money than the original seller.  The reseller has no costs beyond the original purchase price, and therefore can sell at a much cheaper price.  Since the copies are exactly as good as the original, only one original need ever be purchased.  This is not a sustainable business model.  Bargaining on irrational behavior on the part of all of your customers will not get you very far.

Clearly reselling DRMed content doesn’t make sense.  So what are the alternatives?

You can resell content without DRM.  But why would you?  You can copy it as many times as you want.  If it was worth $10 to you, surely you can find twenty people to buy it for $0.60 and make a profit.  Or you can give it away, since it doesn’t cost you anything, and the new friends you might make would be worth more than your initial investment.

So reselling non-DRMed content doesn’t make sense, either.  Where does that leave us?

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