★ Ebook Q & A

M’colleague Matt F W Curran recently sent me some ques­tions about my adven­tures in the ebook trade. I thought my answers might be use­ful to oth­ers, so I’ve pos­ted them here.

Did you e-publish via an e-publisher?

No, I decided that it would be best to con­trol the pro­cess myself. One of the more frus­trat­ing parts of being an author is being unable to cor­rect typos in the final book, blurb, and so on. Amazon makes this trivi­al. My research pri­or to going it alone also demon­strated that many ebooks pub­lished on an author’s behalf were hor­rendously format­ted, pre­sum­ably because the job was giv­en lower pri­or­ity and few­er resources than the more pres­ti­gi­ous print edi­tion.

If so, what is their commission and would you do it again?

I’ve left this ques­tion in because I did, a few months back, use the online ser­vice Smashwords. This ser­vice takes your book (format­ted in Word — alarm bells ringing yet?) and spits it out to mul­tiple online retail­ers, includ­ing Barnes and Noble. I used this because it was the only way I could get my book onto iBooks. Smashwords wanted the doc­u­mented format­ted accord­ing to some unusu­al con­ven­tions. I hired a nice American lady to do this for me. She trades under the name MediaWorx. I paid her $45 and she did a flaw­less job. Ultimately, it was for noth­ing, because Smashwords uses a gen­er­ic tool to con­vert your Word doc­u­ment into dif­fer­ent ver­sions for the online ser­vices, and the out­put is embar­rass­ingly cruddy. Fortunately, I’ve only sold about 4 cop­ies via Smashwords. The vast major­ity of my sales have been through Amazon.

If you didn’t e-publish via an e-publisher and did it wholly alone, has it been easy?

I’ll inter­pret that ‘easy’ as a rel­at­ive term. Yes, it was very easy. When I was pub­lished by a small press, I had to do all my own mar­ket­ing. I had to wait months for roy­alty cheques that nev­er came; had no clue where review cop­ies had been sent; had to put up with a dodgy cov­er; had all kinds of issues with dis­tri­bu­tion; had to turn up in per­son and make myself a nuis­ance on a shop-by-shop basis to get word out.

And do you think there are any benefits to being published via an independent e-publisher regardless of the sacrifice in terms of profits? In other words would it add relevance or legitimacy to your work to be seen to be published independently rather than self-published?

My first response is a mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion of your ques­tion, which I’ve left in. The ques­tion I thought I read was: “Are there advant­ages to being tra­di­tion­ally pub­lished?”

The simple answer is “Yes”. I grew up in an era where writers still used type­writers and my dreams of suc­cess (that is, selling a book to some­body) were all wrapped up in weighty, paper manu­scripts, lunch meet­ings with agents, and see­ing myself on the shelf of a book­shop. I still want that and I can’t help it. The desire, how­ever, is irra­tion­al. I’m immeas­ur­ably bet­ter off now.

And now for the answer to your actu­al ques­tion:

There could cer­tainly be bene­fits in terms of time-sav­ing, but I think all the tools you need for a good book are at your dis­pos­al. Hire your own edit­or. I can sug­gest Clare Christian or Olivia Wood. Hire a cov­er design­er, such as Emma Barnes. The trick­i­er bit is the lay­out of your book, but you can prob­ably hire someone to do that too. I’m not wheth­er it’s a good use of money to hire a middle man (the ‘pub­lish­er’ again) to do this for you.

How much do cover-designs cost?

I’ve got three cov­ers. The first, Deja Vu, was a stock photo from iStockPhoto.com, which I bought for about £50 and worked into my own design. Flashback was designed pro­fes­sion­ally by Emma Barnes for £699.13 (though I’ve since star­ted using anoth­er design based on an iStockPhoto vec­tor, which works bet­ter as a thumb­nail; I’ll use the Barnes design for a paper­back). The cov­er for my romantic com­edy Proper Job is a com­bin­a­tion of two vec­tor graph­ics, totalling about £80, which I put togeth­er in my own design.

Are you making enough money for it to be a financially-worthwhile endeavour (of course, simply being read is worthwhile anyway, but for the extra effort and time put it to get it out there — was it worthwhile?).

In a word, yes. My cur­rent income from the books since March is £2,072.11 and $222. Outgoings are £1,268.40. Profit about £800 before tax. That’s not huge, but the ini­tial costs are all fixed.

How did you come to the price point of the two books? I note that Flashback changed to a cheaper price — did that help?

I wanted the books to be free. (I’m lucky enough to have a full time job as an aca­dem­ic, so I was pre­pared to pay for the cov­ers and edit­ing myself.) Since that wasn’t straight­for­ward, I made them as cheap as pos­sible. This took a little nerve, I must admit, par­tic­u­larly when I saw the ini­tial sales take off, but it’s import­ant to remem­ber that I’m in a pos­i­tion where nobody knows who I am. I want as many people to read my books as pos­sible. Meanwhile, I’ll be mak­ing a brand of my name if I’m any good. There is room for increas­ing the price later on, but for now it’s as well to remem­ber that the mar­ket is not demand­ing my books at all. They’re buy­ing them on a ‘Why not?’ basis. If I increased the price sig­ni­fic­antly (say, into the 70% roy­alty rate, which needs a sale price of £1.70, I think), it’s very likely that I would flat­ten my sales.

Secondly, I’m in it for the long haul.

As for the price of Flashback, I did increase that briefly to £1.70. That was, in ret­ro­spect, prob­ably an irra­tion­al move motiv­ated by the price of its cov­er. I wasn’t sure at the time that the sales pro­file of Deja Vu would remain the same. Turns out it did. When Flashback earned back the cost of its cov­er, I dropped its price. The sales cor­rel­ated very closely with price.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

4 thoughts on “★ Ebook Q & A”

  1. A great post – the whole area of e-pub­lish­ing is still a rather mys­ter­i­ous one, for many reas­ons, and this clears up a lot of mis­con­cep­tions I had.

    Aside from the cov­ers, what else con­trib­uted to that out­go­ings fig­ure?

  2. Hi Daniel

    Those oth­er costs are basic­ally advert­ising (Goodreads, Facebook); I’ve also included the pur­chase of the OED and VMWare Fusion for my Mac.


  3. This blog post is really help­ful. I’ve often wondered about self-pub­lish­ing a book. I’ve writ­ten apps for phones and it’s an inter­est­ing pro­cess when you’re just one guy. I figured self-pub­lish­ing book sales would be sim­il­ar, and this blog post seems to sug­gest it is.

    Thanks for your really refresh­ing hon­esty and expos­ure of fig­ures and things like that. They’re often omit­ted by oth­er people.

    Anyway, really enjoy­ing read­ing Déjà Vu at the moment and look­ing for­ward to buy­ing and read­ing the next ones. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Stu. Glad I could help. There’s a lot of hyper­bole out there and I always think fig­ures — good or bad — are the way to go.

    Many thanks for your kind words about the book, too. If you’re of a mind, I’d really appre­ci­ate a little Kindle store review if you have time.

    With best wishes

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