Sunday, July 31, 2011

Operation Backpack Fundraiser & 200 eBooks Sold

A lot of my post recently have been downers. From the Dropbox terms fiasco to my inability to find an agent, seems all I've been doing is complaining. So, I'm happy to make a couple positive announcements:

First, I'm thrilled to be participating in the Operation Backpack fundraiser by Bards and Sages Publishing. If you are not familiar with Bards and Sages its a great independent fantasy publisher ran by Julie Ann Dawson.

In conjunction with Volunteers of America, they are selling a great collection of $50 worth of indie ebooks for just $10, with all proceeds going to buy school supplies for kids in foster homes and shelters.

There's 17 ebooks (including my Monster Mashup Omnibus); everything from Horror to Westerns, even some Paranormal Romance, so there's something for everyone. Plus, each title is available in both Kindle and PDF format, so if you don't have a kindle you are still covered. I just bought my copy, take a look at the flier and consider doing the same!

In other news, yesterday I reached my goal of selling 200 ebooks this month. That's up from 100 the month before (which was also a record month). While that probably won't be enough to pay my electric bill (hey it's hot here in Nor. CA), it's a great start and I'm thrilled to reach it without actually publishing a full length novel. I guess it shows there's a market for MG/YA short stories.

Hopefully, with some hard word and a little luck, once I get my novels out, things will really start to pick-up.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Major Writing Decision: I'm Going Indie--Here's Why

I've been submitting my MG/YA manuscript Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb (SZJMB) to agents for a while now. I've queried some 100 agents and I've had about 10 requests for full or partials. However, no takers.

So yes, I have to admit that I'm going indie because I can't find an agent, plain and simple. However, even if I did find an agent, I was apprehensive about my chances of finding a publisher, simply because I wasn't willing to accept a less than 5k advance or sign a contract with 17.5% eBook royalties (25% of net). 

Even before querying SZJMB I considered self-publishing. Which is why I started publishing my shorts on Amazon and Smashwords. At the time, I decided that the market for kids eBooks simply wasn't ready for prime time. 

I admit that I did give some consideration to doing one more round of queries before moving on, but I've decided against it for three reasons: First, publishers are still offering a measly 17.5% on eBook sales (and once you sign, you are locked in for at least 35 years). Second, in recent months, I've known three agented authors whose agent's were not able to sell their books (two of which I've read and were very good). So, increasingly having an agent is no guarantee of finding a publisher.

Most importantly, I'm approaching 200 eBook sales this month. Now 200 may not seem like a lot. But when you consider that's 2,400 books a year, enough to sell through the equivalent of a first print run in two years and one month (figuring a 5,000 print for a first time kidlit author), it doesn't look so bad.

Add to that the fact that my current eBook offerings are mostly just short stories (and one novellete) it becomes clear that, with good writing and some hard work promoting (which I'd still have to do if I published through one of the Big 6) it's possible to sell a significant number of eBooks, even kids books.

You may be thinking, sure, but the key here is 'good writing.' If you can't even get an agent, then your writing simply isn't good enough; you should spend more time honing your craft.

I can't deny that you my be correct; my writing may not be good enough to be traditionally published (though I believe it is). However, you can't argue with my reviews on Amazon, B&\N, Smashwords, and Apple.

What the reader thinks is far more important than what an agent or some editor sitting in a New York high-rise thinks. Unfortunately, most authors don't seem to get that (I've been guilty of making changes just to appease an agent myself). We all started writing for our readers, not for an editor or even an agent.

I'm going to peer into my reader's mind and answer some of the questions I think might be popping up:

But you'll sell far fewer books by self-publishing.
- I may sell less books, but I'll make more from each one. For a $3.99 eBook I'll make about $2.75 each. With a Big 6 publisher, I wouldn't even have a $3.99 price point--I'd be stuck at $9.99. I can sell my eBooks for $2.99 and make more commission than I would if my publisher sold them for $9.99.

I know several kidlit authors whose Big 6 published eBooks are all $9.99 (except for one at $9.34) and I'm beating the pants off them on Amazon's rankings. Is it because my books are better? No, they aren't. But it's alot easier to spend $2.99 than it is $9.99.

Sure, but aren't most of your books 99 cents?
-Yes, but that's 99¢ for 8-10 thousand words. My short story ominibus is 20k words and sells for $2.99 (it's currently on sale via Amazon for $1.79) and it is outselling all of the traditionally published kidlit authors I personally know.

You'll never get rich selling eBooks yourself.
- I'm not writing to get rich. I'd love to be able to quit my day job and write full-time--that's my long-term goal. But beyond paying the mortgage, I just want kids to read (and hopefully love) my books.
Plus, I only have to sell about 70 copies a month (at $2.99) to make the same amount in 3 years that I would from a 5k advance.

Yes, but you are not counting the cost of formatting, editing, proofreading, etc. Heck, a decent cover costs at least $5k.
-No it doesn't, and I didn't count the 15% agent's commission, the fact that a lot of first time novelists get advances less than 5k, or the other costs that author's have to absorb themselves (like creating your author webpage).
The truth is a decent cover doesn't cost $5k, not even close. The covers below all cost less than $100 (most were in the $50 range).


Even the Big 6 don't pay $5k for most covers. I recently had a cover made by an artist who does covers for Simon & Schuster. It cost less than $500. Now, I'm sure she charges the Big 6 more, but the point is great covers don't have to cost a lot.

Editing is the most expensive part of self-publishing. An experienced editor costs $2 a page maybe less, proofreading is even less. As for formatting, I do my own and it looks better than most of the formatting I see in $9.99 titles.

So you are giving up on agents? After you self-publish no agent will touch you.
-This might have been true once, not anymore. I know 6 writers who have either gotten agents after self-publishing (5 of the 6), or their agents told them to self-publish.

I'm not going to waste any more time searching for an agent. When (okay, if) my books sell well enough, a good agent will find me. And I'll probably jump to sign-up; having an agent is important. There are tons of foreign rights to sell, maybe even mass market paperback and film right--who knows. Plus, feedback and career guidance are just some of the services they provide.

Best of luck, MJ. I'll be watching the site to see how it goes.
-Thank you. I'll try to periodically update the blog with my progress (I've included this as a question, because I know most people reading this post really feel this way).

Truth is, eBooks are creating a great opportunity for struggling (and established) authors. eBook penetration has finally reached the point where you can sell a significant number of  kids books. When Amazon or B&N finally lower eReaders to the magic $99 price-point adaptation will skyrocket.

Disagree with my decision? Considering going 'indie' yourself? Post a comment with your thoughts.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Save Your Manuscript to Dropbox, Give Them Blanket Copyright? Misha

If you've been using computers for more than a few years, odds are you've experienced the horrifying specter of data loss. Long gone are the days of floppies being our only back-up option.

Today, we can backup our data on USB thumb drives, burnable media, the internet, even upload it to the cloud, wherever that is (actually, it's mostly just a fancy term for a bunch of web connected servers sharing data).

But apparently, this freedom can come at a price; a big one if you happen to be a Dropbox user.
Yesterday, Dropbox updated their terms of service (TOS) to include broad and, IMHO, vague rights to anything you should upload. Their blog, says that they wanted the TOS to, " reflect a few important beliefs we have as a company..." Apparently, those beliefs include the rights to do just about anything they want with the stuff you upload.

"By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent we think it necessary for the Service."

Wow, that's a mouthful. Now, I'm not an IP attorney, though I do have one on retainer (yes, owning your own business is lots of fun). But it doesn't take a J.D. to realize these terms are very broad. I understand, that as part of making your manuscript available to you all the time, they need the right to copy it to other servers--got that, no problem. But, the right to perform or publicly display it!?!?

So, upload your manuscript and if they, or any of those they happen to be working with, think it's vital for the Service, they just might post it on the web (publicly display). Or they could sell the rights (i.e. sub-license) to a 3rd party. Heck, if they really like it, they might even turn it into a play (a derivative work) and perform it at the company party--what fun for them!

Now, I doubt they'd do that. However, given that companies regularly do things the rest of us find immoral, who knows what they might do with it. If not them, then maybe one of whose they work with--whom you also grant rights too--will find a way to exploit it, for the necessity of the Service, of course.

Hopefully, they'll be a public outcry (more than one cranky blogger) and they'll change their TOS to something a little more user friendly. As for me, I'll be moving all my stuff off Dropbox.

Update: As noted in the comments section by Misha, Dropbox has updated their terms (do to the public outcry). However, they don't seem to really have changed all that much.