Branching Out

In April of 2011, I pub­lished my only nov­el, Déjà Vu to the Kindle store. I was at the end of my teth­er with the intransigent (for me) tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing industry. I had a story I believed in and nowhere to place it. Finally, I chose the Kindle store, which was the only game in town. Over the next two years, I made enough money to edit, proof and dec­or­ate my four remain­ing books (Flasback, The Amber Rooms, and Proper Job. So my pro­fes­sion­al writ­ing has sus­tained itself fin­an­cially.

One of the great aspects of the Kindle store is the Kindle Select Programme. This allows authors to make books free for a peri­od (five days in every ninety) in return for exclus­iv­ity. Even though the per­cent­age of people down­load­ing and, cru­cially, read­ing free books is not high, the deal worked out well for me. Off the back of these pro­mo­tions, my books ten­ded to ride high in the paid chart after­ward, and many of the best reviews of Déjà Vu begin with “I down­loaded this for free and wasn’t expect­ing much, but…”

But. The Kindle Select pro­gramme isn’t what it used to be. Probably as a res­ult of Amazon mov­ing its focus away from Select (and because the algorithm might sup­press older books), the pro­gramme is one of dimin­ish­ing returns. Eventually, the exclus­iv­ity isn’t worth it.

At the same time, I’ve been mov­ing towards a more auto­mated way of pro­du­cing books, as you can see in these posts. I’ve now reached the point where a single text file (the nov­el, styled using Markdown) can be passed to a pro­gram designed to gen­er­ate val­id­ated ebooks (com­plete with table of con­tents, about the author, and so on) for Kindle, PDF, and iBooks.

About iBooks. I did use the Smashwords meat-grinder, once upon a time, to pub­lish Déjà Vu in many ebook stores, includ­ing the iBookstore. There was one advant­age to this and sev­er­al dis­ad­vant­ages. The advant­age: It was free, and that’s great. The dis­ad­vant­ages:

  • The pro­duced ver­sions looked like crap (incon­sist­ent place­ment of images; vari­able line height with­in body text; even–saints pre­serve us–failure to indent at the start of chapters).

  • At the time, the Amazon Kindle store was huge, and even good sales for these oth­ers amoun­ted to pen­nies.

The first dis­ad­vant­age was the killer for me, though the second might have iced my cake. I del­is­ted the book from Smashwords. This meant that Déjà Vu appeared briefly on iBooks. Enough to pick up a couple of reviews, then dis­ap­pear.

Déjà Vu is now back on the iBookstore. It looks good. I designed it (and all my oth­er books) from the ground up using Markdown, CSS and Apple’s proof­ing tools. My pre­cious indent­ing is cor­rect and the over­all impres­sion is much closer to a pro­fes­sion­al one. I’ve even added my own fleur­ons.

We’ll see what hap­pens with regards to sales. My sus­pi­cion is that they remain quiet because Apple’s sales are driv­en almost entirely by brand name and expos­ure on the front page of the site. Amazon, by con­trast, is much more aggress­ive about push­ing unknown authors on the basis of match­mak­ing to the reader’s book his­tory. M’acquaintance Scott Pack, relates his exper­i­ence of pub­lish­ing Confessions of a GP on iBooks, which bene­fit­ted extremely from front-of-store pro­mo­tion by Apple. Advertising is the Achilles’ Heel of the inde­pend­ent author; we just don’t have the clout. Everything has to be word of mouth, and the iBookstore isn’t good at amp­li­fy­ing that.

Are you ask­ing your­self: “But, Ian, how can I help you out?” If so, you are very kind. The main dif­fi­culty for me is the lack of reviews. Each book starts afresh. (I’m not sure what the iBooks policy is on includ­ing Amazon cus­tom­er reviews in their product descrip­tions; I might check that out.) But if you’ve read any of my books and feel dis­posed towards rat­ing them once again on iBooks, I will feel briefly warm and fuzzy.

You can see all my iBookstore books here.