The Fate of the “Dreamers Cove” Webcomic

Many years ago I had an inspiration for a funny, family, science fiction adventure. As I had for years dreamed of doing a comic of my own, it turned into a web comic.

The entire story was plotted out, the first few chapters written. Started up the webpage and started publishing it as a webcomic. At first it had a frequency of one a month. As I became more comfortable with the process it moved up to two a month.

All might have been well, but an old injury reared its ugly head. It meant I could not draw for a long period of time. The webcomic went back down to one a month. But even that wasn’t slow enough. Considering how long the story was, doing a page even once every two months, or one a quarter, would result in a story that could not be told in a lifetime.

That was too depressing for words.

I tried all sorts of things. I experimented with black and white, but I didn’t care for the look of it. I pared down the pages to an illustrated story, but by then the injury flared enough that even that was too much art.

Yet, the injury didn’t affect my ability to type!

So, there it is. I have this lovely little story that I still want to finish. It cannot come to fruition through the original vision of a webcomic. But it can be told another way.

I have taken the original story line and realized it comes out perfectly into three books. “Dreamers Cove” will still be told (perhaps under a different title, but the characters will remain the same). This year, for either the July JulNoWriMo or the big November NaNoWriMo, the first book in the trilogy will be written.

And the story lives on.

The E-Book Experiment: Relationships with Product Sources

* Keep a good relationship with your wholesale/product resources. If you don’t have a product to sell, you don’t have a business.

Underpaid, under supported, and overworked employees usually do not result in a good successful business. Throw in a general feeling of being cheated, and forget about having any loyalty!

But, with the writer it gets even murkier.

You see, in traditional business, a customer is sold on a brand. You go into a store for a certain item and there may be a company brand you prefer. You head right for it.

With a book it’s different.

A reader doesn’t walk into a bookstore or browse online for a book that is by a certain publisher (well, except sometimes Harlequin. But they knew they needed branding before most other publishing companies woke up to the 20th, much less the 21st, century). What do readers look for? What do readers ask for?

The author name.

The author is the brand, not the publishing company.

The author is the one who has an exclusively unique product that no one else has. You can’t ask a new author to come in and replace that person (instead what you get is a brand new product that is different, and is once again unique).

We are not talking about building a new mold to pour plastic into or stamped duplicate shapes in metal. A book, and its author, cannot be simply replaced with an identical product.

Considering the branding of the author, you would think that the publishing companies would be careful about nurturing and exploiting those brands as much as possible. But, what do we see?

The author has little to no control over: title, cover, biography, jacket copy, and where and when a book will be released. These things are decided by the publishing company, either by one person, a sales team or a committee.

We’ve mentioned marketing before, but we’ll talk about it again.

You do not throw a product out there and tell the engineer who designed it that they have to go out and sell it with the money out of their own pocket and if it isn’t successful they will fire the engineer and go find a new engineer…

Oh, and by the way, the engineer has nothing to say about what the product is called, what the packaging looks like, what promotion was done to support it, to who and where it’s offered for sale and in what formats…

Not a perfect example, but hopefully it makes the point.

As a company, if you have a new product, you are suppose to be behind it 110%. Otherwise what was the point? Why even do it? Why not just stay with your old products?

Yet, the publishing industry thinks that’s a good idea. I think it’s boneheaded and a self-fulfilling dire prophecy of doom.

Time and again ‘traditional’ publishers say it only makes sense to put their promotional money behind the bestsellers. For a new book or for a mid-lister, they toss the book out, send out a few review copies, and then it is up to the author and a whole bunch of luck on if it sinks or swims.

If it sinks, so then do the odds of the author making another sale under that brand (penname).

It’s not as if the publishing companies are providing more of a royalty percentage to compensate the authors to provide the marketing. No, royalties are going down. Some companies have even been trying to grab rights they have no right to, as they see it’s possible to make a little bit of money in e-books. (Now, wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a standard of say how many royalty points would go to either the author or publisher depending on which one provided the marketing service? I know, keep dreaming.)

Authors are expected to take their minuscule below-minimum-wage advances and do the job OF THE PUBLISHERS MARKETING DEPARMENT! If the book doesn’t do well, forget about the royalties royalties.

Dean Wesley Smith once said (marketing) to someone in the comments to one of his Self Promotion posts: “…your question assumes authors need to promote their own books. If that is the case, why bother signing a contract with a New York publisher? It is their job to promote your books, internet or no internet. Your job is to write them. The line is the contract between the two parties.” This from someone who has sold around 100 books. He gets it. Publishers more and more do not.

Authors and the books they produce are expendable. The book didn’t do as well as they hoped (because of the lack of support)? No big deal. Fire them, don’t renew or make a new contract, and hire a new writer. Writers are a dime-a-dozen. There is always someone else in the wings to fill that spot and provide content for a book-slot.

The writer is left with a damaged brand. Some authors can pull themselves out of it. Keep the old brand penname and find another publisher. Or, change to a completely different name and build a new brand from scratch. Or, some throw up their hands and don’t want to deal with the big whole mess that blames them for so many ‘wrongs’ while they had no power to make decisions for the better.

To me this sounds like a really bad deal for the author. A really REALLY bad deal. The writer is the content producer. The writer goes to the publisher for editing (read post concerning Quality), distribution, and marketing. Traditionally this is what they are suppose to be experts at.

Marketing: No, the author should do that with no increase in royalty percentage.

Editing: No, editors are for the most part now acquisition and new talent scouts.

Publishing the book itself: Yeah, with cheaper paper each year (has anyone noticed how some of it literally stinks now?).

So, now they just want to be distributors?

Well, that was the past. This is the present. And the times, they are a-changin’!

In this day and age the author, themselves, can find the distributors, if they are willing to think outside the box. Such as going digital and POD.

Amazon allows small publishers and Indi authors to sell books directly. Barnes and Nobles just announced a similar program to start in late summer. With sources such as Smashwords a small publishers or Indi authors can have access to Sony, Kobo, the iBookstore, and many others.

An author can go from 6-8% paperback and 10-20% hardcover royalties from the list price to 40-70% percent of list price. At that kind of increase in percentage an author wouldn’t need to sell near as many books to make as much, if not more, money than if they go ‘traditional’.

If they have researched their niche.

If they have the quality.

If they have the right price-point.

If they have the right availability.

If an author has all of the above points covered, then why put up with a printer/distributor that takes a majority of the percentage of a sale, who is known for rights grabs, penalizing the content producers for mistakes not of their doing, and a general lack of support for your product?

That just doesn’t make sense. As someone in the business of writing, does this sound like a profitable proposition for you?

There has been anger and animosity towards the ‘distributors’ for a while now. For decades there was no choice but to put up with them and their demands. It’s been the only deal in town. Take it or there’s the door and don’t let it hit you on the … well, you get the point.

That is no longer the case.

Opportunities are out there for an author to find their own readers. To publish books that weren’t big enough for the commercial trade publishers and to prove they can find an audience. To keep their rights and a bigger percentage of the sales. To devote the marketing time and money they would have spent making the Publisher richer and instead make themselves richer.

J.A. Konrath once mused about what the publishers will do when authors wise up and refuse to put up with it anymore because they have other options. While I don’t think big publishers will go away, I do think we will see a shift and change in the publishing landscape because some writers are going to refuse to play ‘traditional’. Too many are ticked off about being kicked to the curb or taken advantaged of. Some, like me, who are about to jump into the business are looking at the big huge mess and wondering why they should even want anything to do with the dysfunctional mess.

More and more writers are going to tell their distributor they aren’t willing to play the game by their rules any longer. There is a new game in town, and it consists of the writers themselves.

I want to share my writing and make a living while doing it. If I can do the distribution myself and cut out the middleman standing between me and the readers, why not do it? Why not try?

As a content producer, I want to try.

NOTE: For an author who has another means of support, it is possible to make a living ‘traditionally published’, consisting of careful business attention to the selling of the various rights of a written work. See Dean Wesley Smith’s blog for more information on how this works. For someone just starting out, um, well, good luck at hitting that lottery.

NOTE 2: The business of publishing might change in the future and my views of how the publishing industry exists as stated above might change. As a business person I reserve the right to alter and adjust to market forces. That’s business: willingness to change to market changes (see a later blog post). Every writer should pay attention to the business of their writing!

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“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

The E-Book Experiment: Product Availability

* If a customer has to hunt down your product, many times they will instead switch to what they CAN easily find. For many people time is money.

Part of this goes back to “Knowing Your Customer”, but this also comes down to product availability.

If you have a new product, and you advertise it like crazy, would you also fail to make sure it’s available in all the obvious places? Do you really think the customer is going to go on a treasure hunt? Or :shudder: wait until you are good and ready to deliver it?

No, you have it out there as fast as possible, during the marketing blitz and in as many venues and formats as necessary to gain the largest market saturation as possible.

YOU WANT TO SELL!

Brick and mortar points-of-sale for print books are diminishing, and they are dominated by the NY big 6’s willingness to pay for shelf space and prime display areas. Yes, that’s right, bookstores sell shelf space.

We’re going to look at the one big leveling playing field where shelf space is open, unlimited, uninhibited, and not ransomed off to only those with deep pockets: e-books.

While the e-book reading market is still settling (for example problems in varieties of DRM and proprietary formats), there is more than one way to read the books. You don’t need a dedicated e-book reader. Smart phones, iPods, iPads, and the home computer or netbook are all options. Anyone with a few minutes can quickly browse, find a story, pay for it, download it, and be reading in no-time.

E-books have another advantage. They are not tied down to a specific location. A reader doesn’t have to get into their cars and find a local bookstore, if there is one. Good marketing dictates that you make the e-books available in as many of the online markets as possible. Now days there are a lot of big selling avenues, including Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, iBookstore, Kobo, Fictionwise and soon Google Editions and Borders.

This is great for publishers. It means impulse buys on a level never seen before.

That is, if the product is out there. For some big authors they are not. Does that mean the books aren’t out there? Of course they are, as pirated books. These authors are not making a penny in the digital revolution. Readers want to read digital, and telling them ‘no’ just means they will find another way to do it.

Windowing has been mentioned in a previous post in this series. A business needs to sell in order to stay in business. Is windowing a good idea if it’s estimated that a book will lose 40% of its sale power if delayed 90 days or more after the initial book release? The readers are looking for the product, not finding it in a manner they want to read, and moving on to other products. Oops, just lost a sale!

Some publishers are limiting themselves to only some online bookstores and formats, such as what Penguin is currently doing (claiming contract negotiations). Penguin is telling readers to go to one of the other online stores. Readers are telling Penguin to buy them an e-reader that they can read the different format on. Obviously Penguin is declining to do so.

As an aside, while negotiating with Amazon Penguin COULD have released e-books through their own website (if they had one set up to commercially sell to the public) such as a version without DRM that could be converted into the Kindle format. This would have allowed them to make money on the books while showing the Kindle users that they were still important to the company. The Kindle users wouldn’t feel like the only way they could read the books was to break the law by stripping off the DRM and then converting, or not reading the book at all. Did they do that? No. Big fail, Penguin!

Until the formats and DRM restrictions are dealt with, it is foolish to take out an entire segment of your reader base. It creates reader dissatisfaction and bad feelings against both the publisher and the author.

In physical bookstores there is the problem of time on the shelf. Bookstores are keeping new books for shorter times before ripping off the cover and ‘returning‘ the book for full, or nearly-full credit (estimates now are 1460 days in the big chains). For a book, and an author, ‘Shelf-space real estate‘ is the key to finding the wandering eye of a browser in a bookstore. Yet look at how few authors have more than a handful (much less one) of their backlist still in print. Just like TV show premiers, the window for a project to succeed or fail has shortened to the point that most WILL NOT succeed.

There simply isn’t enough time to catch the consumer eye, much less to build a following. It is the equivalent to waiting for lightening to strike.

But how does this ‘shelf space’ apply to e-books?

Say hello to The Long Tail

What does this mean? It means a book doesn’t go out of print, is always available no matter how much time has passed since its initial release. As long as one has the rights, they can stay on the virtual bookshelf for an indefinite amount of time. Newly released works will mean new sales of old books and vice-versa. A long tail of income coming in over a long period of time. Get enough of these long tails going at the same time and then you might be talking about serious regular income.

Look past the big splash. How much will this book make over a life-time?

There is big money in that long tail, over the long term. That is, if the book and back-list remain out there.

In traditional publishing the backlist disappears. If you are fortunate enough to find readers and they want to read past works, it means they must hunt down the books in the used market and the author does not make a penny more. When looking on a bookstore shelf, if the reader doesn’t see the other books from an author it increases the chances of an author disappearing after one book does not sell well. Fewer chances to catch a reader, less chance of selling other books by the same author to the readers, and less chance of a reader remembering the author and coming back.

Meanwhile, an e-book can remain out there on the ‘virtual shelf’ almost indefinitely.

The wave of the future, if anyone is willing to see it for what it is.

Some of the big publishers are starting to see it. Along with rights grabs there have appeared new language in the boilerplate contracts that, if the author isn’t careful, will give the Big Publishers your e-rights for the entire life of the book. With a pittance of a royalty. Not only will the author’s earning power be diminished with the low royalties, but all control over distribution is taken away, making them victims of any of the bone-headed limitations their publishers decide is the ‘right thing to do.”

Make it easy for the reader to buy your product. That means you cast as big a net as possible. This is one area where some of the Big 6 get it, and some do not. Author beware on who they decide to work with. Watch the language of the contracts and their long-term effects.

To me it’s a headache I really don’t want to be apart of.

There are smaller companies that are much more nimble to reacting to changing distribution channels and formats. They have books in all the major, and minor, distribution channels. They also have the books for sale through their own sites in multiple formats, meaning a reader is sure to find what they need, and able to read on whatever hardware they choose.

I want to share my writing. I want to find readers and keep them. That means wide distribution and availability with a full backlist available at all times.

I prefer to be nimble.

Vision: A Resource for Writers is Seeking Submissions

Seeking Reviews and Articles for the July-August issue of Vision: A Resource for Writers.

Vision is an award-winning electronic magazine providing articles and reviews that offer information both new and experienced writers would find helpful. The May-June issue has been posted at the ezine’s new home, Vision, and is chock full of valuable information. It’s time now to think about what you could offer fellow writers in the next issue. We’re interested in articles and reviews of value to writers of all levels. This issue is unthemed, so anything pertaining to writing is welcome.

Think you have nothing to offer? Think again. How do you perform a standard writing task? Have you taken someone else’s method and improved on it? Have you come up with something unique that you’d like to share? Did you discover a technique for improving your dialogue? Did you contact an expert for story research who might be willing to do an interview? Do you have some exercises that help improve specific techniques? There are thousands of ways in which your process differs from other writers, and those still searching for the technique that clicks would love to hear about it.

Is there a resource you go back to frequently for research, because the writing articles are especially informative, or because the market information is up-to-date and reliable? Share your favorites so other writers can benefit. For the July-August issue, we currently need a book review, but are happy to receive additional book, product, or website reviews for this or the next issue.

All submissions should be between 500 and 2000 words, though longer articles may be accepted. Vision pays $0.01 (one cent) per word up to 2000 (up to $20).

We would prefer to receive the articles and reviews for the next issue by June 10th. However, all submissions, whether articles or reviews, will be considered for any open slot regardless of when received, and for future issues if they do not fit in the upcoming one.

Review Caveats:
The reviews must be for web sites, blogs, products, or books that aid in the process of writing whether through providing world building information, writing techniques, marketing resources, or other writing-oriented information. The review can focus on a single site, product, or book, or provide a comparison of resources available around a specific topic. However, you must not have any affiliation with the resources you review. This is to share resources, not for advertising.

The back issues of Vision are available online. To see previous offerings click here: Vision back issues. To see if a book or website has already been reviewed, use this search: Search Vision back issues.

Note 1: If you have submitted an article or review and have not heard, please query. There have been some email issues that have resulted in submissions never reaching us. You can send resubmissions to the reviews address if you suspect a problem with the article address.

Note 2: Feel free to forward this call to anyone you think might be interested.

Note 3: Vision is a non-fiction market. No fiction or poetry will be accepted.

Full guidelines can be found here, including the required submission format:
http://www.visionforwriters.com/submission.html

Query or submit articles by using the contact form here on this site or email: editor AT visionforwriters DOT com. For reviews, send to: margaretfisk AT fmwriters DOT com.

Amazon Splitting Off Give-away Books To Separate Bestseller List

Publishers Weekly has revealed Amazon’s plans to separate the free Kindle books into their own list. There is no date yet set for the change other than it will happen in “a few weeks”.

This is a good news/bad news situation. On one hand, the free downloads were a great way for a book, especially by someone new, to gain traction and rise in the rankings before switching to a paying model. Or, some remained free forever in order to drive new readers to a back-list.

On the other hand, free books aren’t technically ‘sold’ but are giveaways. To have them all in the same list with ‘for sale’ books did not accurately show which books readers were willing to pay for.

One thing I haven’t seen is the question on if Amazon has changed any of their ranking algorithms? If a book is given away first and rises in the rankings of the new ‘free giveaway’ lists, and the publisher/author changes it to a book for sale, will that ‘free giveaway’ ranking be the equivalent to those that are already for sale, and the book land in the ‘for sale’ list at a high ranking? Or will it not count for as much and land the book lower in the ‘for sale’ ranking? Or will the book have to start over on the rankings of the ‘for sale’ list and work its way up from scratch?

Only time will tell. I’ll be watching closely.