was successfully added to your cart.
Category

Blog

Should a self-published author get a distributor or agent?

By | Blog | No Comments

I recently received an email from a self-published author who wanted to know whether he should get a distributor or agent for his book. He had printed up 1,000 copies using a China-based printer, and wanted to know how he could get them into stores or noticed by an agent.

My answer: Getting distributors for printed books is extremely difficult … and probably not worth it. In-store retail paperback sales are falling While print sales have shown signs of life, margins are thin, there has been a lot of consolidation in the industry (or outright closures), and the distributors who remain are extremely picky about who they sign.

I tried for more than a year to get a distributor for In 30 Minutes guides on the terms that I wanted. The terms were key, as our guides are already very inexpensive. Selling the books at a wholesale rate (typically a 55% discount off the cover price) and giving the distributor a cut would lead to a gross profit of just a dollar or two per copy. Moreover, print distributors demand control (and a cut) over ebook distribution even though they add practically no value to this side of the business. Finally, distributors require publishers to adhere to their sales and marketing playbooks. That might be OK for some publishers, but not for i30 Media — in fact it would add significant delays and expenses to our production and marketing processes.

I ended up abandoning the effort to find a distributor. I now handle wholesale and direct distribution on my own through Createspace, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and a short-run digital printer. While it’s true I am missing out on some brick-and-mortar retail sales, it works a lot better for my business — I have more control over my product, keep more money from sales (gross profit is 2x-3x more than what it would be through a distributor), and if retailers want to order the book they can do so through Ingram iPage or contact i30 Media directly through our contact form.

What about agents for self-published books?

As for the question about agents, my response was similar. Reputable ones will want to see evidence of very strong sales on Amazon before talking with a self-published author. And frankly, if your self-published books already has good sales on Amazon, why would you need an agent or a publisher? It’s questionable whether the traditional agent/publisher approach can improve sales for most authors. Even if an agent scores an advance, it won’t be much, and they will end up taking more money from both retail and online sales, leaving just a small cut for the author. Many readers of this post may be surprised to learn that big publishers seldom market books by new authors.

The questions about distributors, agents, and publishers come up a lot. Many people who are new to publishing assume that these players from the 20th-century publishing world are something to aspire to, or are required for success. The reality is it is possible to publish and profit in the 21st-century industry without going through agents, distributors, or big-name publishers in New York. Yes, it requires more investment on the author’s part to edit a manuscript, find a professional cover design, and market the book, but it is doable.

As for the author who contacted me, it turns out that he had self-published a cookbook. I told him that for a book like this, it will be either local bookstores in the community or special venues that will provide the best opportunities to sell cookbooks. Special venues could be a farmer’s market, a community or school fair, or flea markets. At IBPA’s Publishing University conference last year, I heard a presentation by poet/author Kwame Alexander who said that he was able to sell thousands of copies of one of his books at farmer’s markets, based on his wife’s suggestion — and he wasn’t even trying to sell a cookbook, which would be an even better match for people buying fresh ingredients.

Another option: volunteering to speak about the dishes or giving a cooking class … and then marketing the book to attendees.

As for online efforts, I would try the following:

  1. Create a website for the book with links to Amazon or other options to buy
  2. Create some simple videos on YouTube with a link to the book website.

WordPress login problem solved

By | Blog

As a digital publisher, one of the worst feelings in the world is losing control over some aspect of production. Maybe your laptop breaks, an employee or key freelancer leaves, or a vital tool disappears. In i30 Media I have built a lot of redundancy, so if something fails we can move to the backup … but what if the backup option has problems of its own? That’s what happened to me this week when one of our WordPress installations had a login problem. I am happy to report that the WordPress login problem was solved, with a relatively minimum level of effort to fix. This post will describe how I dealt with this particular WordPress problem. (Note that it may not be applicable to other situations involving hacked WordPress sites or corrupted databases. Consult the official WordPress resources cited in the post for guidance).

The site in question is the companion website for Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes. The book launched in September, and since then we have been adding resources to the site including blog posts and free genealogy forms. This week, we launched a new product—a genealogy forms library. There is a digital version, which includes 15 PDF and Excel files, as well as a physical bundle of 50 genealogy forms that are made out of archival-quality acid-free paper.

However, yesterday when I attempted to log into the website to post information and links about the genealogy forms bundles, there was a problem. I got to the login screen OK and entered my password, but it redirected me to the home page of the website.

That’s odd, I thought. Why can’t I log into WordPress? I tried several times on different browsers, but it was the same result. I then checked my other WordPress sites, such as the sites for Excel Basics In 30 Minutes, LinkedIn In 30 Minutes, and Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. There was no issue accessing the dashboard on these other sites.

Was I using the wrong password on the genealogy website? I initiated a WordPress password recovery. I was able to reset my password, but afterwards I still got the redirect problem after trying to log on to WordPress. This was concerning, because even though the site looked OK and people could still check out the book and other elements, I was apparently unable to access the WordPress dashboard to make changes.

The fact that the site was visibly working indicated that my WordPress login problem wasn’t a WordPress hack or security issue. In many cases, WordPress hacks will result in defacement or the creation of ads for porn or bogus pharmaceuticals, and I didn’t see anything like that. In addition, I use security plugins that control most common problems, and follow good security protocol for passwords and user access.

I had a backup for the site (using the Updraft plugin) but I could not even access the plugin screen to restore the backup because I could not log into the site. While it was possible to still make a backup and restore via cPanel or FTP, it would take some time and I feared that the bug or issue would be re-introduced. A third option: manually rebuild the site, which would take the better part of an afternoon.

So I did what everyone does when they encounter a WordPress login problem: I googled how to fix it. There were lots of random blogger solutions, but I paid most attention to what the official source had to say—and the official source is the WordPress Codex “Login Trouble” page. Under “Disable Plugins,” it said:

Some WordPress Plugins may interfere with the login process. Disable all of your WordPress Plugins, either through the admin panel or by removing them from the /wp-content/plugins/ folder, so they will not be recognized by the program.

Alternatively, you can rename the plugins folder to something else temporarily to something like /wp-content/pluginsXX/ and they will not be recognized. Rename the folder back to /wp-content/plugins/ once the base WordPress installation has been recovered.

Now, I don’t know what caused the WordPress login problem, but my suspicions fell on the theme (Salient) or an issue with one of my plugins. I was less inclined to believe the Salient theme was causing the login problem with WordPress, because I hadn’t made any changes to the theme since launch and had also not updated the WordPress installation itself for a few months.

Plugins were another story. I had a few that triggered certain behaviors when errors were encountered, such as a redirection plugin that sent people visiting certain pages or WordPress files to the home page. Maybe one of the redirects was inadvertently triggered, or there was a problem with plugin itself.

So I used the “pluginsXX” trick from the Codex to troubleshoot the WordPress login problem. I went into the cPanel “Files” area, which basically gives me an FTP view of the WordPress installation. I navigated to wp-content, selected the plugins folder, and appended “XX”:

Wordpress login problem solvedImmediately the front page and login page on the genealogy site changed as various visual plugins and security features (such as captcha) were disabled as the plugins were now turned off. But at least I could finally log into WordPress!

I got to the WordPress dashboard and poked around to evaluate the situation. I didn’t see anything other than the warning about missing plugins. I made another backup with a specialized plugin called Updraft Plus, and exported the posts and other content from the WordPress Tools menu just in case.

I went back to cPanel and opened the pluginXX folder, which showed a list of all installed plugins. I deleted the plugin that handled redirections. Then I renamed pluginsXX to “plugins” which made the plugins once again visible to the WordPress software. I went back to my WordPress genealogy dashboard and reloaded the plugins menu. The remaining plugins reappeared, except for the one I had just deleted. However, they were completely deactivated. So I activated them all (save another security plugin) and loaded the site in another browser. It was back to normal. I logged out, logged in on the original browser, and reactivated the security plugin, then logged out again. Logging in was no problem — I could get back into WordPress.

I think the WordPress login problem was caused by the redirect plugin, possibly because of something in the settings that I messed up rather than the plugin itself. I will probably reactivate it again, but be more careful with which 404s I try to fix, especially with xml or php files.

If you can’t log in to WordPress, the first place you should go is the WordPress Codex “Login Trouble” page. Be careful trying to mess around with FTP, WordPress databases, or WordPress settings that can potentially cause bigger problems than the one described above!

Soulene wins IPNE book award

By | Blog, News

Soulene: A Healer in Paris IPNE Book awardOn this blog, I have documented the ups and downs of running an experimental nonfiction publishing venture—i30 Media, which I founded four years ago to publish In 30 Minutes guides. But one thing I seldom mention on this blog or elsewhere is the fact that i30 Media is also a publisher of fiction. I am pleased to announce that one our fiction titles, Soulene: A Healer in Paris, recently received an award from the Independent Publishers of New England for young adult fiction. Congratulations go to author Ursula Pearson, who put in a lot of hard work over a period of several years to tell the story of Soulene, a young healer living in medieval France and England.

You may wonder how a publisher of utility nonfiction got involved in publishing YA fiction. I’ve learned that once you hang out your shingle as “publisher” all kinds of people will approach you for help with their work. As the self-publishing explosion has demonstrated, there is an incredible well of untapped writing talent out there. Unfortunately, the process of publishing a book can be difficult. Not only are the tools unwieldy, but also most prospective authors don’t want to deal with the work associated with editing, formatting, designing, and marketing a new book. So they turn to people with more experience to help them get their books published.

While I have said “no” to most prospective authors who have asked me to edit or publish their works of fiction, I made an exception for Ursula. At the heart of her stories was a strong character, a young woman pursuing a passion to help the sick and injured. Soulene lived in an unjust and cruel world, in which poverty, plagues, and war were a constant presence. Only a small class of educated men (most of them from noble families or the clergy) could ever hope to become doctors. Yet Soulene was able to find an alternate path through a religious order for women, the so-called Red Heart Healers, who specialized in working with the poor of France and parts of England.

Soulene also had a fascinating backstory. I won’t reveal it here, but suffice it to say that it rivals a Mexican soap opera for plot twists, villains, and vengeful plots. Ursula also paid close attention to important historical details, including the types of herbs and plants used for treating wounds and illness, the spread of plague in medieval towns, and even the layout of 13th-century Paris.

These qualities, along with the short length of the books, convinced me to take on Ursula’s trilogy. Book 1, Soulene: A Healer’s Tale, was released in 2013. The following year Soulene: The Art of the Red Heart Healers came out. Last year, Soulene: A Healer in Paris, was released. While the first book required a lot of rewrites and editing, by the third book Ursula had hit her stride. The characters were fleshed out, the dialogue was strong, and the pacing was just right. We found talented graphic artists—Steve Sauer and Malgorzata Godziuk—to handle the covers and interior maps. Reader feedback was great, but I also thought there might be an opportunity to get wider recognition.

award-winning Soulene trilogyEnter the IPNE Awards. Every year the Independent Publishers of New England holds an awards contest, the winners of which are announced at the annual conference. A panel of librarians handles the judging in more than a dozen categories, which include art, literary fiction, mystery, and several nonfiction categories. i30 Media entered Soulene: A Healer in Paris as well as two In 30 Minutes titles. Last month, Soulene was named a finalist in the YA category, and at the conference in Portsmouth New Hampshire it won the IPNE 2016 Book award for YA fiction. It was a pleasure to pick up the award on the author’s behalf.

Does the award mean that i30 Media will be developing more fiction titles? I am not sure, but I have told Ursula that when she starts work on another book I will be ready to read her manuscript.

To learn more about Soulene, check out the official Soulene.com website.

My lean publishing advice to a prospective guidebook author

By | Blog

The essence of lean media is eliminating waste, focusing creativity, and bringing audiences closer to creators. So when a prospective guidebook author queried me about setting up a publishing company to publish a series of guides about state parks in his region, here’s what I advised:

If the demand is there, I would definitely consider doing such a series. I would first try to determine what the demand is, based on things like state park attendance (which is probably publicly available somewhere) and the competition … and creating a test book (as yourself, not through a company) to see how people react.

If there is already a popular book or state park brochure series that covers the state parks, and it is cheap, that would be something you would have to address as you will be competing with them. Maybe your book series could offer better maps or some other information that the competition doesn’t have. In other words, offer a premium feature (for a premium price).

On the other hand, if the competition is expensive and stands tall on quality, you will have to position yourself differently. Say the competition is a big photo book about state parks. Maybe you could price your series lower, or you could try sizing the paperbacks to be able to fit in someone’s pocket, which is a selling point the photo book can’t match.

Keep in mind that setting up a company comes with real costs … I pay $1500 a year to my accountant to maintain my books, plus $500 to the state government as a corporation fee, not to mention various legal costs (trademarks, agreements, copyright applications) which usually run a few thousand per year. My sales are able to support those costs, but if my series was struggling it would probably be better just to sell them on my own or as a “DBA” entity (doing business as) or sole proprietor.

Because of the potential for higher costs, running a test to see if the demand is there is a good idea. If you get some steady sales and reviews you could then start up a publishing company to take things to the next level.

Note that determining audience demand through a test edition and some other market-sizing activities (such as evaluating state park attendance) is a critical first step. Otherwise, there is a real risk of spending a lot of time, money, and effort on something that not enough people are interested in.

Dropbox In 30 MinutesThis is in fact how I started the IN 30 MINUTES series, with a DIY first edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes back in 2012. It started selling a few copies per day, as did the next book in the series, Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. Once I knew the demand was there, I went ahead and created the corporate entity in early 2013. Now we sell thousands of copies every year of our most popular titles!

The other element that I touched upon in my reply was Positioning. I have blogged about the concept of positioning in the past after reading the book Positioning. It’s a really helpful way to think about creating and marketing products in a crowded marketplace.  According to the lead author of the book Positioning (Al Ries), it makes sense to work with what customers already know. Marketing strategy for a new product should be built from the perspective of the “prospect”, rather than the perspective of the company (and the ego of company executives). Often, this involves finding the hole that the market leaders have neglected or don’t serve well. Hence, my advice to the guidebook author to do his book in a different way than the existing competition.

Lean media and books: Which cover works for you?

By | Blog

When it comes to Lean Media and books, there are a few approaches for creators to tap test audiences for insights.

One involves the use of beta readers. As recounted in On Writing and elsewhere, author Stephen King turns to a small group of beta readers (including his wife and “ideal reader,” the novelist Tabitha King) and listens very carefully to what they have to say:

In addition to Tabby’s first read, I usually send manuscripts to between four and eight other people who have critiqued my stories over the years.

If more than one of them brings up something that doesn’t quite work, such as a plot twist or a piece of dialogue, he is apt to change or even remove it in the next revision. I think this is a very effective way to catch potential problems before they make it into print, and also to create a work that is more likely to click with readers.

Another approach involves cover design. At IBPA’s Publishing University conference in 2015, I saw how several New York publishing houses use focus groups and A/B testing to generate actionable metrics that they can use to decide which cover design or design elements will resonate the most with readers post-launch.

But you don’t need to be a big publishing house to do this type of test. Right now, I would like you to take a look at the following test covers for Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes, which will be released later this year. Which cover works for you? Leave your choice in the comments, as well as any other feedback that you think may be helpful!

Genealogy Basics book by Shannon Combs-Bennett

Working with Photos and iCloud Photo Library on macOS/OS X

By | Blog

When it comes to photos, the digital revolution has been a blessing and a curse. It is so darned easy to take photos, yet it’s so *&^$% hard to organize them. A lot of people either don’t know how to transfer photos from their smartphones and cameras to computers and tablets — or they can’t be bothered. Who wants to deal with cables, import settings, albums, and all of the other details? Apple has tried to take away some of the pain with Photos, the photo organizing application for OS X (soon to be renamed macOS?), as well as iCloud Photo Library, a cloud-based photo storage service.

Photos for macOS/OS X is closely integrated with the Photos app on iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad (the mobile version of the app is described in more detail in our iPhone In 30 Minutes book):

photos app iPhone

The Photos app on an iPhone.

Photos replaces iPhoto, an older Apple photo editing app for Macs. If you are using an older Mac and upgrade to the latest version of OS X, Photos will be installed and old iPhoto collections will be migrated to the new application, along with any albums created in iPhoto. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to using Photos:

  • Select the Photos tab to see all photos and videos organized by date taken and location (if location data has been added). If you use an iPhone or iPad, you may also see Photo Stream images, a free service which automatically uploads to iCloud up to 1,000 photos taken on your mobile devices and then shares them on any other Mac, iPhone, or iPad connected to the same iCloud account.
  • Shared is part of iCloud Photo Sharing, an optional service that lets you share photos and videos with friends and relatives, including people who do not have Apple devices — albums are visible on the Web, and people can leave comments. As iCloud Photo Sharing is similar to photo-sharing features found in Facebook, Line, and other social networks, it may not be worth activating. On the other hand, it lets you work with existing photos without having to upload them to a separate service.      
  • Under the Albums tab are photo albums you have created (press the “+” symbol to make a new album), as well as views of videos, the most recent import, and Photo Stream.
  • Projects is an underappreciated paid service that lets users create photo books, cards, calendars, and prints. Select photos in the Photos or Albums view, and then click the “+” button. The cost varies, but the quality is good. The books and prints are an excellent way to preserve the best photos in your albums.
  • iCloud Photo Library is a service that syncs photos and videos on all devices using iCloud. So, if you take a photo on your iPhone, a copy of the photo will be uploaded to iCloud and then distributed to your Mac, your iPad, and any other device connected to the same iCloud account. If you edit the photo on one device, the changes will be reflected on all other connected devices.

Photo Stream vs. iCloud Photo Library

Unlike Photo Stream, which stores only a limited number of photos, iCloud Photo Library can store all the photos and videos you add to the account, up to the storage levels you have paid for in your iCloud account. While every iCloud account comes with a limited amount of free storage, it’s not enough to hold a lot of photos or videos, especially if you are constantly taking photos with an iPhone camera.

To activate iCloud Photo Library on your Mac, go to Photos > Preferences > iCloud and check the box for iCloud Photo Library. To add more storage space, open Apple Menu > System Preferences > iCloud and select iCloud Drive. There are several paid tiers:

iCloud Photo Library paid tiers

iCloud Photo Library: Paid tiers

Once activated, photos taken on your iPhone or uploaded or transferred to your Mac will be accessible on every other connected device.

Q&A with Ian Lamont, i30 Media founder and publisher

By | Blog

Ian Lamont is the founder of i30 Media. In this Q&A, Lamont discusses some of the issues independent publishers face in a rapidly evolving industry. 

For the first question of the Q&A, please tell us about i30 Media and In 30 Minutes guides.

i30 Media was established in 2013, and our main product is the In 30 Minutes series of guides. Some of the titles I have written myself, but there are a half-dozen other authors including Angela Rose, who wrote the second edition of LinkedIn In 30 Minutes.

What percentage of your company’s income is generated from digital versus traditional print sales? How did this percentage evolve?

About 20%. It’s gone down in the last three years from about 30%, as digital sales have stagnated on most platforms while paperback sales have grown. However, I am constantly interested in expanding into new digital platforms and leveraging the strengths of the In 30 Minutes brand. The latest example of this is the Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes video class, which was recently launched on Udemy and Gumroad.

For your company, what are the benefits of e-publishing?

Easy to make changes, production costs (design, copy editing, etc.) are all up front. We can launch a new product very quickly into distribution.

For your company, what are the challenges of e-publishing?

Dealing with Amazon’s monopolistic tendencies, which aim to squeeze publishers of all sizes through restrictive pricing rules and platform dominance. Another challenge: The inability of other platforms — chiefly Apple and Google — to get their respective acts together and provide effective competition to Amazon. To give you an example, Apple has an excellent hardware platform (iPad) but the software used for purchasing and managing ebooks (iTunes/iBookstore/iTunes Connect/iTunes Producer) is in desperate need of streamlining. Instead of updating this infrastructure, Apple has devoted development resources to creating a superb closed-garden authoring tool (iBooks Author) which has done little for sales in the iBookstore and makes it impossible to export ebooks to any non-Apple channel. Google Play Books has its own set of problems: unilaterally applying major discounts to publisher pricing, providing a substandard reporting tool, and shutting out new publishers for the past 9 months while it deals with a pirated content problem.

For your company, which e-publishing methods and strategies yield the best results?

Avoiding platforms that demand exclusivity, such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. This is not just a pitfall of digital publishing, I have heard it exists in some retail channels as well. It restricts your customer base and puts you at the mercy of the platform. What if they decide to cut your payments, or cut you loose?

Working with a designer, Rick Soldin of http://book-comp.com, who can design great print and ebook interiors using the same master, has been a huge help on the production side. It makes managing new releases and coordinating changes much easier, because I don’t have to coordinate with multiple designers. He is a total pro and a great pleasure to work with.

In addition to (or in lieu of) e-books, what sorts of materials—and in what formats—does your company e-publish?

We publish how-to guides in ebook and paperback formats. PDF editions of the guides have sold surprisingly well, too. Last year we split off some of the book content into “cheat sheets” containing instructions, examples, and keyboard shortcuts (for instance, the Excel 2016 Cheat Sheet and the Google Drive Cheat Sheet) which we sell as printed 4-sheet pamphlets on high-quality card stock. A recent content experiment is video content, including a video tutorial based on one of our top-selling ebook/paperback titles, Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. We sell the video through Gumroad and Teachable.com and will shortly be launching on Udemy.com

When choosing the best digital format(s) for content delivery, which factors do you consider?

I think a better question is: When choosing the best platforms for content delivery, what factors do I consider? The number one question I ask when I evaluate any content delivery platform is whether we are treated fairly by a prospective partner. I have said “no” to platforms that treat independent publishers as second-class citizens, or give low payout rates to content providers. Some subscription-based services are particularly bad, and I am not just talking about Kindle Unlimited. One service that targets corporate clients made us an offer based on a shared “royalty pool” of just 20% of subscription revenue. Models that are designed to benefit only customers and the platform owners at the expense of authors and publishers represent a threat to our industry, and we only need to look at what’s happening in the music publishing world with Spotify and other services to get an idea of what a subscription-based world looks like.

New product line: In 30 Minutes video classes

By | Blog, News, Video

Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes video classes

Publisher i30 Media is pleased to announce a new product line: In 30 Minutes video classes. We’re starting with the Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes video course (For a limited time, available at a 25% discount on Gumroad or available as a video class on Udemy), but will expand to other topics soon. You can learn more about the Google Drive and Docs video here, and we will also distribute the class to other online educational platforms.

The idea for In 30 Minutes video classes has been around almost as long as the book series. Around the same time the ebook and paperback versions of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes were launched, i30 Media posted a series of short video screencasts on YouTube. They were very popular — one video that shows how to convert a PDF to Microsoft Word or Google Docs has garnered tens of thousands of views. Would people be interested in watching a longer video course about Google’s free online office suite? The popularity of the YouTube videos indicated that the answer was probably “yes” … but it would require a lot of work, ranging from writing a script to setting up a studio to shoot the on-screen narrations and screencast demonstrations.

What’s inside the Google Drive & Google Docs video class?

Here’s an excerpt from the description of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes (video class):

This 30-minute class is narrated by the author of the top-selling guide, Google Drive & Google Docs In 30 Minutes. The course includes lectures on registration, finding and organizing files, creating documents and formatting them, working with Microsoft Word documents in Google Docs, and a complete review of the interfaces for Google Drive and Google Docs on the Web and mobile devices. The tone of this guide is friendly and easy to understand, with lots of step-by-step instructions and examples that show exactly what to do.

In addition to serving as a solid introduction to new users, it’s great for people making the transition from Microsoft Office, not to mention teachers using Google Drive for education and Google Docs in the classroom.

Here is the lecture list:

  • Introduction
  • The Google Drive user interface
  • The Google Docs user interface
  • Using the Google Drive and Google Docs mobile apps
  • Formatting in Google Docs
  • Formatting Microsoft Word files in Google Docs
  • The Google Drive desktop application for syncing and storage
  • Collaboration

You can start the lesson on Gumroad for 25% off or watch it on Udemy.

We hope the Google Drive video classes prove as popular as the ebook/paperback versions of the guide. In addition, we will be paying close attention to how people use the course in order to improve the video tutorials and create new instructional videos based on popular topics.

Google Play Books: So much promise, so few results

By | Blog, Industry

I’ve lamented the state of competition in the ebook platform wars in the past.

Take Apple, which had so much going for it 3 or 4 years ago compared to Amazon, with a vastly superior e-reader (the iPad using iBooks) and sales that regularly topped $200 per month for my In 30 Minutes series of how-to guides. Apple’s hardware/software advantage did not last. Amazon eventually closed the hardware gap with the Kindle Fire, and continued to make improvements to the Kindle software and ordering processes. Meanwhile, Apple’s bloated iTunes/iBookstore has continued to frustrate users attempting to buy or review books, contributing to a stagnant sales picture. So where did Apple place its platform improvement efforts while Amazon was catching up, you ask? Creating a superb closed-garden authoring tool (see my iBooks Author review here) which has done little for sales in the iBookstore and makes it impossible to export the efforts to any other channel.

Then there is Google Play Books and the partner center for authors and publishers. Google is the only other deep-pocketed company out there that could ever hope to compete with Amazon in the ebook space, but it too has dropped the ball with its marketplace. I have been selling ebooks there for 3 years, and sales have never been good. But there are a host of other problems that stymie content producers and make it difficult to consider it a serious contender to Amazon KDP.

Google Play Books review: What’s wrong with Google Play Books

Where to begin? How about the unilateral discounts that Google Play applies to pricing. It’s gotten so bad that when I create a new ebook listing in Google Play, I have to refer to this Kboards forum post that lists the amounts you need to input to Google Play books in order to display the desired price:

Set Price = Discounted Price
99c = no change (royalty = 52%)
1.49 = no change (royalty = 52%)

2.49 = 1.92 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 67%)
2.99 = 2.09 (Discount = 30%. Actual royalty = 74%)
3.49 = 2.65 (Discount = 24%. Actual royalty = 68%)
3.94 = 2.99 (Discount = 24%. Actual royalty = 68%)
3.99 = 3.03 (Discount = 24%. Actual royalty = 68%)
4.50 = 3.44 (Discount = 23.5%. Actual royalty = 68%)
4.99 = 3.82 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 68%)
5.18 = 3.99 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 68%)
5.25 = 4.04 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 68%)
5.99 = 4.61 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 67.5%)
6.48 = 4.99 (Discount = 23%. Actual royalty = 68%)
9.99 = 7.99 (Discount = 20%. Actual royalty = 65%)
8.99 = 7.52 (Discount = 16%. Actual royalty = 62%)
15.99 = 9.99 (Discount = 37%. Actual royalty = 83%)

Then there’s the lack of a sales dashboard on Google Play Books. Even Nook and Kobo understand that authors and publishers want quick insights into how their books are selling, and provide an on-screen look at monthly sales:

Nook Sales sample vs Google Play books

Google Play Books Partner Center, on the other hand, doesn’t have any sales dashboard. It’s only possible to download a .CSV file that contains raw sales data. If you’re handy with Excel or Google Sheets, you can probably set up something that handles basic currency conversion and get a USD total for monthly sales, but if not, you’re out of luck.

Google Play Book reviews include scraped and fake reviews

And then there are the reviews that appear next to my books in the Play Store, written by people who have never downloaded or read them. To be fair, this is a problem with Amazon too, but at least Amazon displays “Verified Purchase” next to the reviews so shoppers know which ones are more trustworthy. Potential customers who venture to Google Play to check out my ebooks are likely to encounter drive-by complaints about the topics covered (“you can get this information on YouTube for free!”) or issues that have nothing to do with my books (such as the person who had a problem recovering a password from some online service). Because Google can’t screen or properly identify real reviews, I’ve taken the step of removing links from my websites to the Google Play Books product pages for half of the titles published. The Google Play product pages have become a liability, and I don’t want to send customers there.

Buy hey, I suppose I should be happy that I at least have access as a publisher, and basic support questions get answered. Nine months ago, Google Play Books closed its doors to new self-published authors and small publishers:

Over the course of the last four weeks there has been a media firestorm about the sheer scope of pirated content on Google Play. This has forced the company to close their Play Books Publisher Portal. In a message in the Google Product Forums, a Google rep said “We’ve temporarily closed new publisher sign ups in the Play Books Partner Center, so we can improve our content management capabilities and our user experience. We’re working to reopen this to new publishers soon. Thanks for your patience.”

As far as I know, Google Play Books is still closed to new authors.

Do you use Google Play Books as an author, publisher, or reader? What has your experience been like? What needs to change?

 

Five pieces of advice for aspiring authors

By | Blog

Goodreads recently prompted me to share some advice about writing to aspiring authors. Although I do not write fiction, I have been a nonfiction writer for years as a journalist (1994-2010), blogger (2002-present), and author of “how to” books (2012-present). I am going to share five pieces of advice for aspiring authors, which may be useful to fiction writers as well as nonfiction authors.

  1. Make time to write. It doesn’t have to be long–an hour in the evening two or three times per week is fine–but you do have sit down, turn off or remove all distractions, and start putting words on the screen. Even if it looks bad, keep at it–you can always go back to edit it later, and in time you will find your voice. Also keep in mind that even if you only manage 200 words per session, that’s enough to generate a chapter or even a very brief short story in 10 days. If you need inspiration, check out the NaNoWriMo movement, which encourages authors to write 50,000-word manuscripts every November.Woman writing in her home office. Licensed from Shutterstock
  2. Work with whatever format you are comfortable with–manuscript, essay, blog, short story–and try to experiment from time to time. Two of the biggest boosts for my writing was keeping a travel journal in the 1990s and then blogging starting in the early 2000s. Both formats helped me develop a very easy-going voice which has served me well as a journalist and author.
  3. Get your book in front of readers. It can be friends, family, or colleagues, writers’ circles, blog audiences, or actual readers that read your book after seeing it on a self-publishing platform. You want honest feedback from people about what works and what doesn’t, so don’t take it too hard if you get constructive criticism about style, spelling, cover art, etc. Audience feedback is central to my “Lean Media” methodology for content creators, so if you are interested in learning more check out my lean media website I created.
  4. Do not waste time pitching agents or “Big Five” publishers unless you have a solid track record with traditional presses or self-publishing. I hear way too many new authors say “I’m waiting to hear back from an agent” when they should be publishing on their own and concentrating on writing their next work. Don’t wait for top industry professionals to help you, because they won’t unless they see evidence of strong sales or a national “brand.” In the meantime, you can try independent publishers or even publish the book yourself, using self-publishing services offered by Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and others.
  5. Learn how to do basic marketing activities, from writing cover copy and online descriptions to setting up a simple author website. If you don’t know how to do this, google it or check out one of the many online forums or blogs aimed at authors. Many new writers are shocked to learn publishers don’t do much marketing for their authors (big-name writers being the exception) so it will be up to you to send out review copies, organize author events, and take care of many other marketing opportunities.

I’m happy to discuss this advice in the comments section … or feel free to share your own advice for aspiring authors!