Saturday, February 15, 2014

Self-publishing or Traditional Publishing - you choose!

There's been a lot of noise being generated on the internet about the merits of self-publishing over the last few days, so I thought I should throw in my two pennies worth (or two cents worth for my American friends).

It was started by a blog posting from self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey (The Wool series) who analysed a mountain of raw data from Amazon which seemed to prove that authors will always make more money by self-publishing.      YOU CAN SEE HUGH'S REPORT HERE

Self-publishing guru Joe Konrath spread the word on his blog - SEE IT HERE - and said it backed up what he has been saying for years, that self-publishing is the only sensible choice for an author.

Then battle commenced, and it actually got quite nasty.

I always find it strange how much vitriol Joe gets from traditionally-published authors. The reaction of British crime writer Mark Billingham is typical. This is how Mark Billingham talked about Joe Konrath on Twitter some time ago.

I don't see that there's any need for name-calling. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  Joe thinks that self-publishing is the best deal for any author.  Other writers - such as Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville (WHO PUTS A GREAT CASE FOR TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING HERE) - prefer to be with a publisher.  It's horses for courses.

So what is my two-pennies worth?

It doesn't matter. Seriously. As Stuart Neville says on his blog, it's just noise. Discussing the pros and cons of self-publishing is a waste of time. Period.

Personally, I am following the hybrid route. I sell a lot of books through Hodder and Stoughton, a terrific traditional publisher.  I sell a lot of books through KDP and Smashwords, books that I have published myself.  And I sell a fair number of books through Amazon imprints Amazon Encore and 47 North.

In terms of earnings, I get the most cash from Hodder and Stoughton. Hodder and Stoughton get my books into the all-important supermarkets and the surviving book chains and get me into various Amazon promotions that aren't available to self-published writers.  There would be no advantage in my becoming a totally self-published author.  Yes I would get a higher royalty rate by self-publishing - Amazon give you 70 per cent on eBooks priced over $2.99.  But then I would lose the paperback sales, and that's worth a lot to me. And my books wouldn't be in public libraries. I take great pride in the fact that I am one of the most borrowed writers in the UK library system and I wouldn't want my novels not to be available to library users.

But that's just me. I don't have a view on what anyone else should do.  Joe Konrath made more than a million bucks last year selling eBooks (Disclaimer - I am a huge fan of his writing).  Writers like Lee Child make even more money being published traditionally. Hybrids like me get the best of both worlds. But which route you choose doesn't matter. At the end of the day it's your writing that matters, the system you use to deliver that writing to your readers isn't important. Energy spent on arguing with other writers about which is best is a total waste of valuable time, time that would be better spent writing. So that's my two pennies worth - now I'm going back to working on my new book.  Which will be  published this summer by Hodder and Stoughton.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Words Of Wisdom From Mark Coker of Smashwords

I've been with Smashwords since I first began self-publishing back in 2010 and have always been a huge fan.  Their CEO, Mark Coker, really understands self-publishing and his company has already published more than a quarter of a million books - almost TEN BILLION words!

The great thing about Smashwords is that it's a one-stop platform - you download your book to Mark's site and he sells it on to a string of retailers, including Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Sony.

Mark has just released his predictions for the industry in the coming year - and it makes for fascinating reading. You can read Mark's predictions - BY CLICKING HERE  I reckon that every self-published writer should read what he has to say in order to prepare themselves for what is coming.

I thought I might add my two cents to his thoughts on a couple of subjects, so here goes:

MARK SAYS:  Big publishers lower prices – Traditional publishers have always fought tooth and nail to hold the line on ebook prices.  By maintaining high prices, they left the sub-$5.99 market for ebooks wide open for indie authors to exploit.  For several years, indies have enjoyed this playground all to themselves.  The results of our 2013 Smashwords survey illustrated the competitive advantage indies received by pricing low.  Our 2013 survey found that books priced $2.99 and $3.99, on average, received about four times as many unit sales as books priced over $7.99.  This pricing advantage helped many indies out-sell and out-compete the traditional publishers.  It helped indies build fan bases at a rapid clip.  For indies who could write and publish low-priced books that were as good or better than what New York was publishing, placement in the bestseller lists became more achievable than ever before.  For much of 2013, it wasn’t uncommon to see indies holding up to half of the top 10 bestseller slots at major retailers on some days.  Big publishers have taken note.  In 2013 big publishers began competing more aggressively on price with temporary price promotions.  Until recently, it was rare to see a traditionally published book priced under $4.00.  In 2014 their temporary price promotions will give way to a new normal.  Discounting is a slippery slope.  Once customers are conditioned to expect big-name authors for $3.99 or less, the entire industry will be forced to go there.  The huge pricing advantage once enjoyed by indies will diminish in 2013.

I have written about this before on my blog. My publisher - Hodder and Stoughton - has already slashed the prices of the books of several of its big-name authors and I think Mark is right, there is a new normal coming and in the UK that new normal looks to be £2.99.  Personally I think that's a fair price for the reader,  if the money is paid one third to the writer, one third to the publisher and one third to the retailer. That works for me because I have a backlist of more than thirty novels. Where it becomes a problem is for the new writer who only has one or two titles under his or her belt. I'm not sure that a writer will be able to survive on the relatively small amount of money that a £2.99 price generates. Self-published writers have made a lot of money over the last couple of years because they had a price advantage. Now that the major publishers are cutting their prices, the self-published writers find themselves on a level playing field and that is going to hurt. The simple fact is that given a choice between a Sunday Times bestseller at £2.99 and a self-published novel by an unknown writer at the same price, most readers will opt for the bestseller. That means that self-published writers will have to cut their prices to make their books attractive, and that will reduce their income stream. Several analysts have described this as the rush to the bottom and it isn't good news for self-published writers.

MARK SAYS:  Ebook sales, measured in dollar volume, will decrease in 2014 – Yikes.  I said it.  The nascent ebook market is likely to experience its first annual downturn in sales as measured in dollar volume.  This will be driven by price declines among major publishers and by the slowing transition from print to screens.  Although readers will continue migrating from print to screens, the early adopters have adopted and the laggards will shift more slowly.  Another driver of the drop is that the overall book market growth has been moribund for several years.  As ebooks as a percentage of the overall book market increase, it means the growth of ebooks will become constrained by the growth and/or contraction of the overall book industry.  Global sales in developing countries remain one potential bright spot that could mitigate any sales contraction.

This is really bad news for most self-published writers.  Mark is right, I think. The number of eBooks will rise, but the cost will fall. And the cost will fall so far that while the number of books will rise, the total income from eBook sales will fall. And it's income that matters to writers. It's all very well selling books cheaply, or giving them away for nothing, but at the end of the day if writing is your career you need to earn money from it. And if that pot of money stays the same but the number of writers continues to rise, that means incomes will fall. For writers with large backlists it's not a huge problem, but for a writer at the start of their career it's the worst news possible. I think it means writers are going to find it very difficult to earn a living from their work if they are self-published and don't have publishers' advances to fund them.

2013 wasn't a great year for self-published writers as a whole. Yes, there were a few major success stories, but they were the exception. Most self-published writers saw their sales and incomes fall, some quite drastically. When I started on this self-publishing journey in 2010, there were several other authors doing the same thing and doing very well. But I have noticed that almost all of them have virtually disappeared from the bestseller lists. Where they were once selling thousands of copies a week I doubt that they are selling more than a few dozen. And where before they would have several titles in the Top 100, now their books aren't even in the Top 1000. There are a number of reasons for this - including price cutting by the big publishers and the way that Amazon now compiles its bestseller lists - but the reasons aren't important. What matters is that the world is getting harder for self-publishers and they are going to have to come up with strategies to deal with it. 

MARK SAYS: Production takes on increased importance in 2014 – One of the most important secrets to ebook publishing success is to write more books.  As a writer, your writing is your unique creation.  It’s your product.  Authors who write great books (and produce more of them), are the authors who build sales and platform the fastest, because each new book represents an opportunity to please existing fans and hook new ones.  Organize your time to spend more time writing and less time on everything else.

Again, Mark hits the nail on the head. Writers have to write. It's all very well going to writers festivals and using social media and blogging away, at the end of the day you have to produce work to sell and that means sitting down at the computer (or with a pen in your hand) and writing.  The days of a writer being able to live off one book a year have pretty much gone, unless you're a Lee Child or Stephen King.  That's how I used to write when I first started doing it full time: every year I would write a novel and it would be published in hardback. A year later that book would appear in paperback alongside the new hardback. Most writers worked that way, and a lot still do.

The arrival of eBooks has changed that for many writers. Last year I published three novels - True Colours and Nightshade through my publisher Hodder and Stoughton, and Take Two, through Amazon and Smashwords - and seven Spider Shepherd short stories, an Inspector Zhang short story and a Jack Nightingale short story. Late last year I finished writing the fifth Jack Nightingale book (Lastnight) and am now working on my 11th Spider Shepherd book (White Knights). I am also planning to produce two stand-alone novels in 2014 and at least five short stories.  I envisage working that way for many years to come! If you're a self-published writer, I suggest you do the same!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Publishing Short Stories As eBooks

I've always thought that ePublishing would revolutionise the short story.  With traditional paperback publishing it is pretty much always the case that no matter how popular the author, their novels always sell better than their collections of short stories.

Personally I've never understood why that is, because I prefer to read short stories, especially when written by a master storyteller like Stephen King.

I figured that eReaders would change that as readers could download a single short story for those times when they only have an hour or so to read. On a short flight, for instance, or over lunch.  I have self-published almost twenty short stories over the past two years and they are all selling as well as my full-length novels, so I think I might well be right!

The four Spider Shepherd short stories that I published on Amazon and Smashwords are doing amazingly well - all four are in the Top 10 of the War category in the Kindle store in the UK.

If you want too read them, it's probably best to start with Natural Selection which explains how Shepherd got his nickname during the jungle phase of SAS selection.

You can buy it in the US Kindle store BY CLICKING HERE

And in the UK Kindle store BY CLICKING HERE

At present I'm working on the brand new full-length Spider Shepherd novel, the 11th, which will probably be called White Knight. Hopefully it'll be on the shelves in the summer of next year! It'll be published by my UK publisher, Hodder and Stoughton.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

How To Succeed In ePublishing

I came across a terrific article about the 10 things any eBook self-publisher needs to do to succeed.

It's here - and well worth a read - GREAT ADVICE

There has been a huge change in the way that the traditional publishing has reacted to ePublishing over the last few months.  They have slashed the prices of a lot of the eBooks they publish and as a result they have started to dominate the bestseller lists again.  It looks to me as if the days of self-published writers topping the bestseller charts with cheap books has gone.  And it's understandable. If you can but a Sunday Times bestseller for 99p, why would a reader opt for an unknown writer instead?

What I find fascinating is the number of traditionally-published authors who only a year or so ago were complaining that low prices devalue their work are now quite happy to have their books sold at low prices.  One writer I know who spent a great deal of time telling the world how awful eBooks are was on Twitter recently urging his fans to buy one of his old books because it was selling for just £2.49 on the Kindle. And another Sunday Times bestseller who was forever moaning about competition from cheap self-published eBooks now seems quite happy to have his entire backlist available on the Kindle for just £2.99 a copy.  Whenever one of their low-priced books rises up the bestseller charts they are quick to congratulate each other, but there's rarely any mention of the fact that it's the low price that's driving the sales.

It does seem to me that £2.99 is a fair price to pay for an eBook - split three ways between the writer, the publisher and the retailer. That still gives the self-published writers some leeway to get their books noticed but it's nowhere as easy as it used to be. And the big problem these days is that with the traditional publishers now moving to dominate the market, it's nigh on impossible for a new writer to get noticed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Take Two Riding High In The UK Bestseller Charts

My self-published eBook Take Two - a full-length novel about a soap opera star who witnesses a gangland killing - is still doing well.  According to the Bookseller magazine Stephen Leather's Take Two was at number 9 in the UK eBook bestseller list last week.

That's pretty going because most of the books on the bestseller list are selling for 20p, part of the now infamous Sony/Amazon pricing war.  Take Two is now selling for 63p in the UK, which is still a bargain.  You can buy it   BY CLICKING HERE

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My New Spider Shepherd Short Story

The new Spider Shepherd short story has just gone online.  Kill Zone tells the story of how Spider got shot in Afghanistan, and in some ways is the precursor to my new Spider thriller.

I'm enjoying these Spider SAS stories - Friendly Fire is also available - and I plan to release another in a few weeks.

You can buy Stephen Leather's Kill Zone for the Kindle HERE

My crime thriller Take Two, which I released a few weeks ago, has already made the Bookseller magazine Top 10 list, which is good news!

According to the Bookseller, Take Two is number 7.  There are a lot of cheap 20p books on offer at the moment, and I'm sure if they weren't around Take Two would be even higher!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My New Crime Thriller

I've just put a new 92,000 word crime thriller online as an eBook - and I think it's a cracker.  Take Two is about a soap opera star - Carolyn Castle - who witnesses a gangland murder.

But she realises that her fame means that she will be in the firing line if she comes forward as a witness.

The killer is charismatic gangster Warwick Richards - and he's more than capable of killing again to stay out of prison.  But does he know that Carolyn saw him commit murder?

I had great fun writing Take Two.  It's based on an original idea I had for a TV screenplay.  I wrote a few treatments but could never get anyone interested in filming it.  To be honest, I think it works better as a novel! Let me know what you think!

I thought long and hard about pricing.  I'm a big fan of selling books cheaply but there has been something of a backlash against cheap books - especially in the US.  These days readers do seem to equate a low price with low quality.

In spite of that I'm going to sell the book at 99 cents in the States and for less than a pound in the UK.

You can buy Take Two in the UK -  HERE

And in the US - HERE