Tag Archives: Amazon

A Perspective on E-Book Sales Trends

E-book sales in fiction leaped by 42 percent in 2012 over the year before, to $1.8 billion, according to a recent publishing industry report. Non-fiction sales of e-books rose by 22 percent, to $484.2 million, while e-book sales in the children’s and young adult categories rose by 117 percent to $469.2 million, according to BookStats, the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. The survey included data from 1,500 publishers, including the six major trade houses.

While sales from bricks and mortar bookstores continue to make up the bulk of publishers’ revenue at $7.5 billion, that figure is a seven percent drop. Revenue from online retailers like Amazon, the biggest player in the market, shot up by 21 percent to 6.9 percent of total revenues. This was the first year-long look at the industry since the bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders bookstore chain.

Sales of downloadable audio-books enjoyed a 22 percent increase in revenues in 2012 compared to 2011 (from $197.7 million to $240.7 million). Publishers saw the increase as the result of the widespread use of mobile devices.

None of these numbers should come as a surprise to those who closely follow the publishing industry. Let’s look at what the numbers mean for writers and for readers. For both groups the key words are choice and accessibility. Writers who can’t crack the Big Six (and that’s most of us) have options to publish their work. And those options are affordable. A writer can upload a novel to Amazon in minutes at no cost, though I strongly recommend investing in a book editor and a graphic designer. Readers can read the work of a dizzying array of writers—not limited to the best-selling authors, but talented indie writers.

This is an amazing time to be a writer or a reader (or both). The downside of the ease of publishing a book is that anyone can do it, from accomplished writers to hacks and neophytes with no writing skills. The proliferation of hastily written, sloppy books makes it difficult for good writers to break through all the clutter. For readers, it’s an equally steep challenge to find literary gold in the new online slush pile.

So what does the future hold for readers and writers? Here are a few predictions to consider:

• E-book sales will continue to rise, but will level off at some point. Some experts say they will reach 50 percent of all sales, but I believe e-books will climb even higher than that.
• Dislocation and mergers will continue in the publishing industry, making it even harder for unpublished writers to land a contract.
• Successful indie or self-pubbed writers will be those who are prolific and can create an effective and far-reaching marketing apparatus. Marketing, more than content, is king when it comes to achieving success in e-book sales.
• Bookstores will continue to close. Those that survive will be the bookstores that can deliver value and a unique customer experience that will engender loyalty.

What about you? Where do you see the publishing industry heading in the years to come?

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E-books Outsold Hard Covers in Adult Fiction: What Does It Mean?

It was both stunning and expected—the recent news that e-books outsold hard covers in the adult fiction category in 2011, according to a report co-produced by the Association of American Publishers (AAR) and the Book Industry Study Group, based on sales figures provided by 2,000 publishers.

It was stunning because it was one of those watershed statistics, never before achieved and unimaginable just ten years ago. It was expected because publishing industry observers knew the day would come when e-books became the preferred mode for the majority of consumers, even if it is happening in just one category at the moment.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Net sales of e-books jumped to 15 percent of the market in 2011, up from six percent in 2010
  • Overall, U.S. book market sales declined by 2.5 percent to $2.72 billion in 2011, down from $2.79 billion in 2010.
  • Majority of publishers’ revenues still come from print books at $11 billion, compared to $2 billion from e-books.
  • In the adult fiction category, e-books accounted for 30 percent of total net publishers’ sales, compared to a 13 percent share the year before.
  • Online retailers represented 13 percent of total net dollars, but grew by 35 percent from the year before.

Read a summary of the report on the AAR site

Read more about the report on the BookStats site

Here’s a good analysis of the report by Jeremy Greenfield on the Digital Book World site.

Greenfield noted two interesting facts in his story. For the first quarter of 2012, e-books represented 25 percent of all sales in trade fiction. He also pointed out the BookStats report found that publishers made over $1 billion selling directly to consumers in 2011, up from $702 million in 2010.

What do all these statistics mean for authors? Clearly, e-books will continue to grow in market share, as some analysts predict they will eventually dwarf sales of print books. The report also shows publishers are still making a heck of a lot of money. The industry is healthy, but undergoing change. Though revenues dipped by 2.5 percent to $2.72 billion in 2011, much of that could be attributed to the demise of Borders, as well as a slew of independent bookstores. Traditional publishing remains the most viable option for authors to achieve success. However, readers are flocking to e-books and that bodes well for authors whose only route to publication is self-publishing. Of course the self-published writer must shoulder all of the editorial, platform building and marketing burden.

It behooves writers to pay attention to what’s going on in the publishing industry. Writers should also watch what goes on around them. More and more of my friends are buying Kindles, Nooks and iPads. Lovers of traditional books (like me) have a dual mindset. I still read printed books, but I also read many books on my Kindle. When I travel, I carry a paperback and my Kindle.

The publishing world continues to change at a rapid pace. The good news is there is so much diversity of content available and that bodes well for reader and writers.

What’s your opinion of the changes taking place within the publishing industry?

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The Decision to Self-publish: A Terrifying Leap

The blogosphere is rife with essays about the war between traditional and self-publishers and the internecine feud among self-publishers, who belittle other writers and publishers alike. Everybody is mad at someone. Public venting may make some people feel better, but it demeans us all.

I left a comment on one of these posts stating those who say self-published writers have a choice is a little like saying I chose the over-40 basketball league at the local gym over the NBA. The NBA wasn’t offering a contract, even when I was 21-years-old and in peak physical condition. Upon further reflection, this comment missed the mark.

Most self-published authors have four basic choices:

Option 1: Keep pitching your book to agents, knowing each rejection chips away at your self-confidence.

Option 2: Work hard to improve your manuscript and then renew your efforts to pitch your work to agents.

Option 3: Consider self-publishing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or the other popular e-book platforms.

Option 4: Abandon your novel and move on to a new project.

Most writers pursue Options 1 and 2 with vigor, but as time stretches from months to years without success, they move from Option 2 to Option 3. Having been through that thought process, I found the self-publishing option terrifying to me. It’s like the feeling I got the first time I dove off the high diving board. Don’t look down. Take a deep breath and just do it. The idea that my work would be out there for anyone to criticize was scary enough. The stigma associated with self-publishing (though that is changing) also gave me pause. The lack of a strong platform was an equally daunting thought.

I agonized over my decision. If you are facing a similar decision, here are some considerations:

Age. For an older writer, the self-publishing option may be appealing because time is not on your side. If I was 20 years younger (or even 10 years younger), I would be willing to wait up to 10 years to secure an agent and a publishing contract. As a writer in my mid-50’s, I don’t have time to wait. I want to write more novels. I may decide to shop these novels to an agent, depending on the marketability of the story and the quality of the writing. Or I may self-publish.

Genre. If you are writing Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance, or Mystery, and you have a strong manuscript, you have a shot at publication. It’s a long shot, but an agent is going to pay attention to a strong pitch followed by an engaging sample. If you write family sagas like me, the odds are really against you.

Skill level. Some writers are ready for prime time, but maybe their book is the wrong vehicle or it doesn’t showcase their talents. These writers should keep at it and try to get published. Novice writers shouldn’t pursue traditional or self-publishing until they have honed their craft.

Tolerance for rejection. Writers must have a thick skin. Simply put, if you have no tolerance for rejection, traditional publishing may not be for you. However, that doesn’t mean you can take short-cuts in your desire to self-publish your book. Self-published books require the same level of editing, proofreading, outside review and due diligence as traditionally published books, if not more.

Marketing platform. Some self-published authors are not great writers, but they sell tons of books because they are expert marketers. Social media guru Jane Friedman has cautioned self-published writers not to publish their books until they have built a substantial platform. This calls to mind the axiom, “If a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?” A writer with a strong platform and lots of followers on social media is in a good position to self-publish.

Productivity/staying power. Are you a one-trick pony or do you have many novels in you? A lot of people wonder how Amanda Hocking achieved her astounding success at self-publishing. She worked extremely hard, pumping out novel after novel. She was prolific at writing and platform-building. Writers must ask: am I in this for the long haul? Am I willing to put my heart and soul into this? (Sorry, I must have turned off the cliche-checker today).

Self-publishing is a choice, but it is far from an easy one.

What considerations do you weigh when you are thinking about self-publishing?

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Reflections on a Writer’s Conference

Another CAPA-U conference is in the books and the daylong event featured a powerful keynote, a thought-provoking agents’ roundtable and a variety of workshops related to craft, publishing and marketing.

CAPA is the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. CAPA is made up of aspiring and published book authors, journalists, freelance writers, poets, and playwrights, as well as editors, agents, publishers and other professionals who meet regularly to enhance mutual growth and success.

The 2012 CAPA-U kicked off with a moving keynote by noted Connecticut author, professor, and editor Lary Bloom, who spoke about his struggles to find a way to write about his experiences serving in Vietnam. Bloom was a supply lieutenant in the U.S. Army. His childhood friend and Hebrew school classmate, Harmon Polster, was in the Air Force. Polster’s plane was shot down and he was officially MIA until recently when his bones were identified. Bloom finally was able to express his experiences through a play, Wild Black Yonder, that premiered at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook, CT.

The most powerful way to bring the horrors of war to the reader, he said, is to personalize them. This hit Bloom after talking to Polster’s widow. “The story I would tell affected only a few people. But I had to keep reminding myself that it was a worthy enterprise—that the small story stood for a much larger tragedy,” he said.

Bloom’s stirring keynote was followed by the agents’ roundtable. Of course, the two leading topics were the Department of Justice lawsuit against Apple and the Big Six publishers and the growing impact of Amazon on the publishing industry. The agents were universal in their criticism of the DOJ lawsuit, which they said was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the agency model and the economics of publishing.They saved their harshest criticism for Amazon, which they described as a company that cares nothing about publishers and authors and is bent on driving publishers out of business by taking a loss on book sales to gain market share.

In response to a question about the changing role of agents, several agents said they are more valuable than ever to authors. Agents are the author’s advocate. They understand the business and are experienced at negotiating the most favorable contracts for their author clients.

In addition to the learning that goes on, a writer’s conference is an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new contacts. It was fun to catch up with old friends and find out what they were working on and to meet new people. In fact, one of the sessions featured an agent and author who met at CAPA two years ago and the meeting led to a book deal for the author.

I have to do this more often.

What do you find the most beneficial impact of a writer’s conference?

 

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What Makes a Good Book Cover-Part II

Since I published my novel, Small Change, through Amazon.com I have received a lot of compliments from my writer friends on the cover design. The praise is misplaced for I had little to do with the cover design. I was fortunate to work with a friend who is a talented designer, Greg Reese of West Hartford, Connecticut, who was really the brains behind the cover.

Here was the process. Greg and I had lunch and I explained what the book was about. We reviewed some of my ideas for what I wanted the cover to convey. Since many of the dramatic scenes in the story took place at a lakeside resort, I wanted to feature the lake on the cover. There was a dock located between the cottages of the two families in the novel, the Sykowskis and the Crandales. My original concept was to have the main character, John Sykowski, sitting on the dock looking out at the lake, with his friend, Rebekka Crandale, standing behind him with her back to him. It would be dusk and the figures would be shadowy. This reflects a key moment in the story when Rebekka asks John if he loves her and John tells her that he does not.

Greg and I discussed typography and art work. One basic question Greg asked was whether I envisioned a drawing or a photograph or some other type of image. After discussing it, we agreed a photograph would work best. Greg asked me to send him three book covers that were similar in concept to what we had in mind. I did a quick Google search and sent Greg three images.

Based on our discussion, Greg came up with nine basic designs. We narrowed it down to two, but we needed a specific photograph to make them work. I called my son-in-law, Brian Marzi, a budding artist who enjoys photography. Brian took more than 200 photographs at a lake in Ohio, Twin Lakes, located in the Twin Lakes section of Kent, Ohio. He brought one of his friends who looked close to the age John would have been to pose for pictures on the dock.

As soon as we saw the photograph of the young man sitting on the dock with his back to the camera, looking out at the lake, we knew we had the shot we wanted. It spoke to so many elements in the story: the water representing surface truths but hiding secrets, the dock as both a unifying and dividing line, the young man who is gazing out at his future, the trees and the clouds representing the horizon of his life.

Our only remaining issue was the typography. One design had the title in white with a black border. It was stark and basic, reflecting the tone of the work, but the other design, with the title in red, drew the reader in. We ultimately decided on the red lettering with my name in black on the next line.

The image displays well on the Amazon page, which is a must for e-book covers.

So here are some key lessons learned:

  • Use a professional graphic designer.
  • Meet with your designer and explain the concept and your vision.
  • Make sure you and your designer are on the same page in terms of the basic cover concept.
  • Be frank with your designer. If a design doesn’t work for you, speak up. Your designer will appreciate the feedback.
  • Ask for several options working within the basic design. For me, there was a cover design I didn’t choose that I really liked, but everyone else thought the design we selected was superior (and they were right).
  • Just as you cannot hurry the creative writing process, don’t rush the design process. Design professionals know what they are doing. Don’t put undue pressure on them.
  • As is the case with editing, ultimately you are the boss—not that this was ever an issue for me since we were totally in synch.

An attractive book cover is essential for a self-published author. Be sure to put in the effort to ensure your book cover attracts readers.

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What Makes a Good Book Cover-Part I

Writers can spend years working on a novel, sharpening and polishing the manuscript until it’s ready for publication. Shouldn’t writers spend at least something close to that kind of effort on the cover design for their book?

This isn’t an issue for traditionally published authors. Unless you are a superstar author the publisher generally determines the cover art for your book. For self-published authors, however, the cover design is crucial. It’s as important, if not more so, than the book itself. Why? Your friends and writing colleagues will buy your book based on their familiarity with your work, but consumers who don’t know you are going to be drawn to or repelled from what they see on your book page on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

So what makes a good book cover? A good book cover should have:

Visual Integrity. I was going to write “visual attractiveness,” but that’s subjective. What one person might find attractive, another person might view as ugly. Visual integrity means all of the elements of the design work together to evoke an image in the mind of the reader. Think of your book cover as a marketing piece for your work. It is the number one marketing piece for your book. From a non-designer’s perspective, what I don’t like in any marketing piece is clutter. A book cover should not be so busy the reader’s eye doesn’t know where to go.

Elements that reflect the tone and emotion of the book. The cover art should express what the book is all about. Look at the covers of a romance and a mystery novel. You will see how the different elements support and reflect the genre. A reader would not confuse the covers of a Carl Hiaasen novel and an Anne Tyler novel. One screams out “over-the-top” funny, while the other is quiet and introspective.

Readability. This means selecting fonts and typography that are clean and readable. Stay away from fonts that are difficult on the eyes. If the reader can’t make out the book title at a quick glance, you could lose a sale. It’s the same with colors. Choose colors carefully. Bright colors have a certain connotation to the reader. You wouldn’t buy a novel with a dark theme if the colors on the cover were bright pink and yellow. This also means that the type size should be big enough so a reader can clearly see the book title and author’s name at a quick glance.

Compelling images. Whether it’s a murder weapon or drops of blood –essential for a mystery book cover – or a spaceship with aliens, the images should draw the reader in. The reader remembers powerful images on a book cover.

An emotional appeal to the reader. This is one of those things that hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.

Distinctiveness. Your cover must stand out from the crowd. A book with a religious theme could have a cross or a crucifix on the cover, but it’s been done a thousand times before. Unless the cross is displayed in an unusual fashion, it’s not going to stand out.

Should a self-published author design her own cover? My answer is a resounding, “No.” Unless you have no other option, find a graphic designer. You wouldn’t perform brain surgery without a medical degree and years of training. Why do you think you can design a book cover? If you can’t afford a designer, barter or try to get a young designer who is looking for work to design your cover.

For more detailed information on book cover designs read this excellent post by Jeff Kleinman from Folio Literary Management site:

Here’s another helpful discussion in this post by Andrew Pantoja

There’s also a site called 99Designs, a crowd-sourced design site where the author names his price and graphic artists submit designs in a contest with the author selecting the winner. I cannot vouch for or endorse this site because I’ve never used it, but the point is there are low-cost resources out there for self-published authors.

So how did I come up with the design for my first novel, Small Change? In my next post, I will describe the process I used.

What do you like in a book cover? What are some of your favorite book covers?

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Pricing Your E-Book: What’s the Sweet Spot?

Authors who self-publish their work must weigh a number of considerations when determining a price for their book. Among these are:

  • Perception of quality
  • Consumer appeal
  • Author royalties
  • Marketing
  • Time spent

Let’s examine these considerations:

  • Perception of quality. Does the 99-cent novel consign our work to that wasteland of low-quality, error-riddled novels? Are you banking on savvy consumers to somehow pick out your high-quality novel among the scores of amateur efforts? I decided to price my first novel, Small Change, at $2.99, which is the lowest price on Amazon for which the 70 percent author royalty applies. Why? Frankly, I thought it was worth at least that, but as a new author, I didn’t feel confident pricing it above that level. My thought on perception is this: if you believe your novel is of a high quality (don’t we all?) and you have put a lot of time and resources into your work, I see no reason not to price it at $2.99 or higher. That’s less than the cost of a latte at your favorite coffee shop.
  • Consumer appeal. The 99-cent novel has great appeal. It is low risk (no risk, really)/high reward for the consumer. If the consumer doesn’t like the book after finishing the first page or chapter, what has he lost? The consumer has paid less than he would for a pack of gum. The price point matters to consumers. Just ask Amanda Hocking or John Locke. I haven’t ruled out dropping my price to 99 cents, but I would like to have a second book out there before I do that.
  • Author royalties. If you are confident your book will sell and are willing to put in the time and effort to market it, you are leaving a lot of money on the table by opting for the 99 cent price. Amazon offers authors a royalty rate of 70 percent for books priced at $2.99 or above through its Kindle Direct Publishing program and 30 percent for books priced below $2.99. The example often cited is John Locke, who sold one million e-books at 99 cents, but would have made a lot more money by setting his price at $2.99. Of course 99 cents is part of a deliberate marketing strategy, which brings me to my next point.
  • Marketing. 99 cents is seductive. An author doesn’t need any descriptors like “only” or “such a bargain.” The price speaks for itself. Put on your marketing hat and ask yourself: is it possible to underprice a book in these times? I don’t think so, especially when authors are offering “free” promotions to get their work in the hands of readers. However, it is possible to over-price your book. If you are a first-time author and you are charging $4.99 for your book (just to pick a number out of the air), why would a consumer want to take a chance on you when he could buy the hot new 99 cent novel? Besides, if you charge 99 cents and sell a ton of books, a publisher will take notice, as was the case with Amanda Hocking, who was signed by St. Martin’s Press.
  • Time spent.  Here’s where things get dicey. You have no problem charging 99 cents, but then you think about all the time you spent on your manuscript. Let’s say you spent 1,000 hours on the first draft. Figure another 1,000 hours on revisions, editing, proofreading, and polishing your work. These are conservative estimates. Throw in 50 hours for marketing and coordinating your cover design. That’s 2,050 hours. I’ve made close to $60 on my book so far. If you calculated an hourly rate for the time spent, I’m making pennies on the hour. And that’s fine with me. This is a passion, not a job. It all comes down to your goals and how to achieve them.

So what’s the bottom line? Authors should experiment with price. Err on the low side. Don’t get caught up thinking your book is the best one ever written and the reader will gladly pay eight or nine dollars. It’s not going to happen, unless you are Jonathan Franzen or Stephen King.

How much would you pay for an e-book by a first-time author? How much would you pay for an e-book by a renowned author?

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