E-book Redistributors: Advantages

Cross-posted from the Calamus Communications blog.

Last time I talked about what e-book redistributors are: services that allow you to submit your e-book once, and then automatically publish it to a number of the biggest sales platforms. For an e-book author or publisher, this confers a number of huge advantages.

EbookThe biggest plus is that it increases your reach. One of the keys to higher e-book sales is making them available in as many places as possible, therefore putting them in front of as many customers as possible.

To do this one by one, and figure out the intricacies of each separate platform, would be extremely time-consuming. But by using a redistributor you can have your book published in six different places, almost instantaneously.

It also allows you to manage your published e-books better. What happens when you’ve got an e-book live and on sale in six different places, and you find a typo in the first sentence? If you published it on each platform individually, you would have to create a new version of the e-book and then upload it separately six times. You might even have to work with multiple versions in different formats. That’s a lot of work.

If you are using a redistributor, you change it in one place, and it gets published to all the different places automatically. No need to go to multiple places – and you won’t forget to update one of the sites either.

Sales tracking and payments are much easier too. You can see how books are doing on all the different platforms at once, and at the end of the month you have one set of royalties, not six or seven.

So there are plenty of advantages to using an e-book redistributor, and they are typically well worth the money you’ll pay in commission. The ease of publishing alone makes them worth considering as a writer.

Are they perfect? No, of course not: there are a few disadvantages as well. But we’ll deal with those in the next post.

Outlining Your Novel: Yes, I’m an Outliner

Plan1The argument about whether you should outline your work before you write it or not has almost become a religious war. Both sides are utterly convinced of their correctness, and both sides are in fact correct.

Creative writing is difficult enough without deciding in advance what will work or not work for you. There’s no magic bullet, nothing that will get your book written except writing words, nothing that will get your books to improve except editing and learning and writing more. Those are the only absolutes.

However, the argument about outlining has become so polarized that it’s worth considering whether either side is completely right. In fact, up to a few manuscripts ago, I was not an outliner in any serious way.

I had a rough outline for my novel L.M.F. that was about twenty lines long – I listed where each chapter took place and what major incident took place there. And that one had a fragmented timeline, with two timelines presented in parallel, and the earlier one ending at the point where the later one began. It was complicated enough, and I was new enough to novel-writing, that I needed a rough guide.

But for the novels after L.M.F., I didn’t even put that much thought into what would happen. I would sometimes make some notes when I was done about what would happen in the next scene, or in the rest of the current scene, when I was finishing my writing session and putting the pen down. Otherwise, I relied on the novel’s premise and my own understanding of my characters to figure out how to push the story forward.

The first change, for me, was when I embarked on a novel that had four different points of view. (Not published yet – but someday.) With four interlocking stories, I had to make sure I was balancing them well enough; was Stan in too much, or Zsolt in too little? When did I need to have this crisis, or that one? It took a bit of care and planning, and an outline was absolutely crucial. I ended up making a few handwritten pages of notes in the back of a notebook to get that one done.

Around the same time I was struck with an idea for a science fiction novel. (Not published yet – but someday.) The concept, the characters, and the entire story hit me all at once. I sat down and over two days completed a 9,000-word outline for the book. I started working on it right away, and in five months, writing only on lunch hours and coffee breaks, I had finished the 90,000-word manuscript.

That was the point where I became an outliner, for every book I wrote. I even plot out the general points of a story when I’m writing a shorter piece. But everything has its own document somewhere in Google Docs or Evernote that I can open up, skim through, and figure out what happens next.

So in the religious war, you can put me on the side of the outliners. But I’m still agnostic enough to accept that it might not work for everyone. So if you’re an outliner, what drawbacks do you have to keep in mind as you work? If you’re not, should you consider doing it?

Next time: the problems with writing an outline – all the reasons you haven’t done it before.

E-book redistributors: what you need to know

Cross-posted from the Calamus Communication blog.

AmazonKindleUser2If you’re considering publishing your work as an e-book, you’ve probably encountered the bewildering number of platforms out there. Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Barnes and Noble — all of these sales platforms are worth considering to sell your book.

Just putting the books on one platform is daunting enough; dealing with the many intricate details of this vast array of platforms and getting your book on all of them seems like an impossible task. How do authors do it without taking on e-book publishing as a full-time job?

The answer is e-book redistribution services. These are web-based companies that don’t necessarily worry about selling your books directly to consumers; they’re more interested in publishing books on your behalf on other e-book platforms, and taking a commission on each sale you make.

How do they work?

Publishing a book through a redistributor is not much different from publishing on any e-book platform. You enter the details about your book (like the author, title, blurb, and keywords); you upload a manuscript and cover; and you send it for publication.

The difference is that you do this once, and the redistributor does the work of repeating those actions for every different platform they support. They’ll reuse the book details and put them in the right place; they’ll convert the manuscript (usually from Word or HTML) to whatever format each platform requires; and they’ll jump through all the hoops needed to publish the book. You publish once, they publish a half-dozen times. Pretty efficient!

What does it cost?

Typically, the fees are far from exorbitant. There are no upfront fees, so if your book doesn’t sell (or if the platform rejects it for some reason), you don’t lose anything. And on each sale, the redistributor tends to take about 5% of the royalties. For Amazon, where you’re getting just over $2 for a $2.99 e-book sale, that comes out to only a dime. That’s not such a bad deal.

It takes a little longer for your sales to show up – the platform reports them to the redistributor reports them to you, which delays the process sometimes. And the redistributor typically collects the royalties together for all of the platforms and provides them a month or so after they receive them, which means you get a nice lump sum from all your sales at once, but it might come a little later than if those sales were made directly on the platform.

Are they worth considering?

Given the small slice that the redistributors take in commissions, their efficiency and effectiveness are amazing, and any e-book author should consider using the services. However, there are drawbacks as well. In the next posts we’ll look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of using e-book distributors, as well as review the services that are currently on the market.

How to Get a Literary Agent

Asking “how do I get an agent” is the wrong question. Some excellent advice in this article:

It’s not because self-publishing is the future or because you don’t need an agent in 2014 or blah blah. There’s plenty of room for those discussions elsewhere. It’s just the wrong question because asking it means you think the process matters.

It’s like saying: How do I enter the password? That’s helpful sure, but um, you have to have the actual password first. Chances are, you don’t. None of us do at first.

To make that clear: the password here is to have a really great book. A book with a lot of potential to sell or win awards or accomplish things that people in publishing find important. Actually not just potential, but likelihood, real likelihood of fulfilling it. That might not be easy, but it is really simple.

This is exactly it. The process doesn’t matter; you’re not selling your ability to follow a process, you’re selling a book. The book matters. Worry about writing a great book.

Who’s stealing ebooks?

This infographic makes the case that the cost of ebook piracy is far less than the benefits of DRM-free distribution. It’s not a question of whether copyright ought to exist (which is where this sort of discussion often seems to go); it’s a question of how, in the current technological world, copyright holders are best served.

I knew about TOR Books removing DRM from all of its ebooks a couple of years ago, and by all accounts the experiment was a success. Most e-publishers (e.g. Kobo, Amazon KDP) allow for non-DRM distribution as well, although it’s rightly the author’s choice.

I think we’re going to see that, like the iTunes model, making content easily available for a reasonable price is what will win the copyright battle for the rightsholder. I know I’d much rather buy an e-book from Kobo or Amazon than find it, download it, and sideload it. There’s a real convenience in the current system and I’m willing to pay for it. I’m even put off when people offer free epubs, because I don’t really want to go through the hassle of getting it on whatever device I happen to be using.

I also had a recent issue where I bought an ebook from Kobo and discovered that I was allowed to read it only on their desktop reader, not on any device. I’m not one to stare at my desktop computer monitor for 200 pages’ worth of reading; the question is why that limitation would exist at all. I argued until I got a refund, which is something Kobo doesn’t normally offer. They ended up with hassle, a lost sale, and an annoyed consumer; I ended up without the book I wanted; the author ended up with nothing. We would all have been better off if the content were automatically available for multiple platforms.*

Am I wrong here? Is there any real benefit to keeping ebooks under DRM’s lock and key? I think it’s more likely that we should be working on streamlining distribution, ensuring that when readers want to pay for a book they can, and that everyone else in the chain – retailer, distributor, author, publisher – is paid in the process.


* It’s quite possible that this book was published a long time ago, and the necessary rights couldn’t be obtained from the publisher for some reason. Still, it was on the Kobo store, so it was reasonable to assume it would be readable on the Kobo app.

Coming soon: the Toronto Novel Marathon

In one month I will be running the only kind of marathon I’m likely to finish: the Toronto Novel Marathon. One weekend to write an entire novel. Yeah, that’ll be fun. I’ll be preparing all through July for this gruelling run… uh, this gruelling write.

But there’s a catch: it’s in aid of Renascent, a charity that helps those suffering from addiction in the Toronto area. So I need pledges! Please consider throwing a few bucks in the pot here.

More on the preparations will come as I get closer to the date…

Access Copyright’s Payback Program is open

This year’s Payback Program is now open for registration. If you are a Canadian writer, and have print publication credits to which you hold the rights published from 1993-2012, you can collect royalties from this program.

Don’t know anything about this program? Read the FAQ [PDF].

Here’s where you get into the Payback program.

To be part of the program, you need to register with Access Copyright — and if you didn’t register with them as of the end of last year, you’re not eligible for this year. But that means you should register with Access Copyright today, and be ready for next year.

The reason to get into this program is because you actually get a real, live cheque in the mail every fall. Even with one book in print, you are eligible for a portion of the royalties paid out to writers. It’s pretty nice to get a cheque for a couple hundred dollars every year — it’s not a lot of money, but it feels good.

If you qualify, get registered. If you’re not sure whether you qualify, find out.

Accepting Rejection

I’ve had some ups and downs recently with my work — some positive signs about a couple of manuscripts that I worked on, and some rejection as well. Even very small victories do mean a lot to me, as a writer, but the rejections do take a little bit out of me.

Of course, I’m still hunting for the big success. I know I’m getting closer, but I think of all of the little steps forward as little bites, while I’m still trying to land a fish. It’s frustrating, of course, but you can’t get the fish without getting some bites first.

I did get one excellent rejection recently. The editor was positive about the work, but had a list — a long list — of edits she’d want to see; she said she’d look at it again if I took care of those things. They were often very fundamental weaknesses in the story, or issues that were woven throughout the book, and to attack those issues would take some time and effort. I’m going to do it, though. It’s a good book and everything she listed would make it a better book.

But even more encouraging is the fact that I wouldn’t have this list with any of my more recent books, or at least I wouldn’t have a list this long. Part of the problem was that I embarked upon that book without any real idea of what I was going to do; I actually took a four-month hiatus from it — paralysis, really — before I could figure out what to do with the last third of the book.

More recently, I’ve learned to outline my work, so that I don’t have these important characters who are AWOL through most of the book, and I have motivations clearer in my head before I start writing them. I know I also write more quickly with an outline. The trick has been getting the outline at the right level of detail, but I’ve figured out the sweet spot for my writing.

In any case, it’s a good rejection, and the publisher is willing to look at something else I’ve got. I can get used to this kind of rejection… but not too used to it!

Don’t worry about your network, worry about your friends

Accordion Guy’s advice (and the article he’s referring to) for people who mess around in the high-tech sphere is perfectly applicable to writers, too:

If you have successful friends, you will be successful. It’s pretty much that simple. If you hang out with a bunch of losers, you too will adopt their loser ways and not achieve anything. Regardless of whether or not you go out and network, please make sure that your friends are ambitious and hard working people who you admire.

The writers I hang out with, work with, swap editing with, and read all have one thing in common: they write. Usually they write a lot. And when they write, they’re serious about getting their writing out there, one way or another.

I used to describe them as people who were working to get published (and I appointed myself as judge of whether they were realistic in that, for better or worse). Now I look a little more widely, realizing that there are many paths, and many measures of success; now I look for writers who have defined useful goals and work to achieve them. (Again, whether the goals are useful is something I judge for myself.)

But people who talk about wanting to write? They aren’t people I talk to about writing. People who have been working on the same novel for ten years? People who have this one idea they’d like to turn into a novel? People who do nothing but “free-writing”? People who don’t want feedback on their work?

Those are good people, fine people. I have no problem with those people. But they aren’t people I talk to about writing. The people whose opinions I value, whose stories I hang on, whose work I seek out and ask to read and offer to help with and whose signed copies I display on my shelf with pride: those are writers.

And there’s another side to this: why would those people want to hang out with me? They are perfectly capable of judging my goals, and whether I’m working towards them realistically. And there’s no doubt that plenty of them have considered me and found me wanting, by their standards. And that’s fine, too.

In short, to be a peer of other people whose work you respect, work like hell and make sure that what you produce is at least approaching the same sort of quality. If you want to hang out with great people, start by being one of those people.

The Oenophile’s Quandary

Cartoonist David Malki introduced us to the Oenophile’s Quandary:

Presented with something that, over time, increases in quality (like wine) or value (like money in a savings account), when’s the right time to use it? If you’re saving for a rainy day, how hard does it have to rain before that’s it? And as the item gains worth, wouldn’t it have to rain harder and harder before it makes sense to pop that cork?

And isn’t it good to exercise a healthy discipline of delayed gratification? If in doubt, save it?

Sound familiar? I think of this every time I finish something I want to send out for publication.

The work itself doesn’t improve over time, but it can potentially improve through revision. Theoretically, you could revise something infinitely, increasing its quality more and more with each pass.

Then again, you don’t want to have to wait forever to publish something, do you? In today’s world of zero-cost (or at least zero-upfront-cost) publication, you could e-publish immediately upon completion and start earning income right away. But a single pass through the piece to proofread it would be minimal time invested, and potentially keep from turning readers off with an errant first-page typo.

Or is it just an excuse to put off the unpleasant work of actually sitting down and editing one’s work?

This weekend I submitted something to a publisher during one of their rare open submission periods. I had to submit the first five chapters, and I spent a long time on them. Someone should tell philosophers about deadlines.