★ 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.

Published by Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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  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. 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. 🙂

  3. 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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