Turn the Ebook Upside Down, Shake Well Before Serving

Gabriel PaulBy Gabriel Paul, Founder, Diabolical Toy

I market new books through social media channels, and I’m going to tell you why I think ebooks should be produced very differently from the current model.

Right now, an author writes a book and secures an agent, after which an editor negotiates the rights and purchases that book, after which revisions and edits are made, after which fonts are chosen and a cover design created, after which an ebook is fashioned (most likely text only) and a release date determined….

Then after all of these things are finished, someone like me might or might not be brought in the help market the book online.

As we market a book on the internet, my company will almost certainly create video segments designed to create interest in the book: videos are more likely to show up early in search pages and more likely to be clicked on when they do.

But, these video segments are created after all the previous production steps have been accomplished and the book is on its way to market.

And that’s the problem.

Any additional media created, which might include websites, animation, video, games and contests, will be built on top of already secured rights.

This limits what can be done to market the book, especially if the film rights have been secured. Also, when creating video content to advertise a book, we are very conscious that the visual aspects, the actors, costumes, sets, etc., are not directly representative of the book they promote. They are not a part of the book and may not even relate to the cover design.

Creating content like this, after the novel is fully realized, is like making a movie and then hiring a new set of actors, dressing them in similar costumes and placing them in a different setting to create the trailer, and then telling the audience that the trailer looks something like the movie being promoted, rather than parsing the trailer from elements of the film itself.

Of course, the reason we love movie trailers is that they give us a taste of what we will actually experience in the movie itself. Trailers are great ways to generate interest.

And that’s why I think we’ve got the whole ebook thing backwards.

I’ve always maintained that marketing strategy is most important in the product development stage. That means the marketing should be built into the product itself. For books, we need to reverse the order by which books are currently created, negotiated and sold.

We should produce an enhanced ebook first.

Ideally, these multimedia pieces inform the actual writing of the book. The book would be written into existing media capabilities, the way a screenplay is written to capitalize on the visual and sound capabilities of film or TV. With enhanced ebooks, it would help if some forethought was given to potential interactive capabilities, but for the sake of this article, I’ll limit myself to the video/animation elements.

That means that dynamic multimedia ebook content would be created before the physical book. In the months before the physical book is released, this dynamic content could be parsed and re-edited for distribution over the web, as well as through TV and even film. This newly edited content would be representative of the actual experience a user will have with the enhanced ebook. That makes better marketing, which means better findability.

In a best case scenario, the content is created at the same time as the book is written. While in most cases that may not be possible, I believe that the agent should package both the content creator and the author when bringing the book to market, supplying a demo of the intended ebook.

Of course, this would require a new rights model: literary agents would negotiate digital rights to include paying the content creators, much as illustrators are paid out of the advance and later through royalties.

I believe that the ebook will eventually lead the market, rather than the hardcover book: it’s easier and cheaper to sell and distribute. Edited ebook content can be used for marketing through social media. If this content is unique and interesting in and of itself, it is innately viral. By “viral,” I mean that the content is voluntarily passed on by a user to her network (not that the content will be viewed millions of times overnight; that would be more like a pandemic than a simple virus).

Ebooks have gained a significant share of the overall market in a very short time. While some of those sales may cannibalize the traditional print market, numbers suggest that the availability of ebooks Is creating whole new markets.

Ebook sales could actually undergird and support sales of print books. This would allow for more effective and authentic marketing, where the marketing is actually an extension of the product itself (the ebook, in this case). It also gives users the option to purchase the book at their preferred price point; the inexpensive ebook, the more expensive paperback, or the high-end elite hard cover.

Most customers are going to buy in their preferred format anyway. Why not create more interest upfront with ebook content?

Of course, I’m talking about specific types of books—the books that are suitable for enhanced viewing on a tablet like the iPad. Children’s picture books are a natural choice for this kind of model. While nonfiction offerings like cookbooks and home improvement books are also obvious choices, here at Diabolical Toy, we work mostly with fiction, especially paranormal, speculative and historical narratives.

I’m betting that turning the model on its end would not only allow for more effective integration of traditional and ebook marketing efforts, which is a cost saver in itself, but sell more books in both formats.

Gabriel Paul is a lover of all publishing formats and founder of Diabolical Toy, a company that markets bestselling YA books via social media. Current projects are focused on the development of content for online serialized novels, smart phone narratives, and enhanced ebooks.

10 thoughts on “Turn the Ebook Upside Down, Shake Well Before Serving

  1. Mia Amato

    Gabriel, this doesn’t seem so revolutionary. In the romance fiction market, it’s been pretty common (for years now) for titles to be published as ebooks first, and then into print books.

    And in quite a few instances, the ebook gets published, THEN the author finds a publisher and THEN gets themselves an agent. Amanda Hocking being the most recent and spectacular example.

    As far as illustrated ebooks for children, a good example would be Meet The Brittles in Monstermania by Hal Pollock, which was promoted as a video well before it became a print book and a Kindle book.

    And yes, now we are seeing videos being produced prior to either ebook or print book production. But that’s mostly with independents. Traditional publishers generally have to wait until the cover art is finalized on, since having a visual unity between trailer and cover is always a good thing.

    So where’s the disconnect for current models? I’m not feeling it over here.

  2. JB Howick

    I apologize, but your article appears to be a self-promoting effort to get more money out of the book industry. Video advertisements are not movies. Movies generate independent revenue. Advertisements do not. Packaging your advertisement along with an ebook does not elevate your advertisement to the level of illustration or the author’s written content (generally, people are not buying the ebook because they want the advertisement) — and I can’t even begin to imagine the riot resulting from the suggestion that advertising should drive how an author writes a book (I have enough trouble getting authors to accept editing…).

    From a publisher’s point of view, royalties are how we share the risk of publication with the author. If the book fails, we all lose. If it succeeds, we all win. (In fact, if the book fails the author usually comes out ahead having had no upfront cost but his or her time.) Most publishers break even on their costs if the initial print run is sold. Advances only exceed the value of the initial print run if the publisher is completely sure the book will be a success and are often less than the value of the initial print run because there’s too much uncertainty. Are you willing to work within this framework?

    You didn’t mention how your business model would be affected by the proposed change in rights. If you charged $10,000 before the rights change, are you expecting a $10,000 advance + royalties after the change? Or are you expecting a $1,000 advance + royalties after the change? If the former, you’re just looking for more money. If the latter, you’re actually looking to participate in the same way both publisher and author are: by taking a risk on your investment.

    1. Gabriel Paul


      No apology needed: you caught me. I am indeed promoting myself, my company and our ideas.

      And I would love to make more money, if and when deserved.

      But you are mistaking some of my fundamental points.

      First of all, I am not suggesting that an advertisement be packaged with a book as a value ad. On the contrary, what I am proposing is that when the narrative warrants it, enhanced ebook content be produced before the print book, and not as an afterthought. When that content is video or animation, it would then be re-edited to promote the book, as a movie trailer is cut from actual movie footage.

      So: not an advertisement packaged with the book, but an animated illustration edited to become an advertisement.

      And I am not suggesting that advertising drive the content of the book, but that the content of the enhanced ebook drive the advertising. Though I will say, writing for the medium, which I believe includes the digital capabilities of tablets and smart phones will make better books for those media. And result in more effective marketing.

      As for how my business model will be affected, let me spell it out. If a publisher is willing to pay me 10K after the fact to design a marketing campaign, including digital content, and under a separate budget will pay me or someone else to produce video or animation to be included in an enhanced ebook, let’s say for the sake of argument an additional 10K… how am I swindling the publisher by suggesting that we produce the enhanced digital content first for 10K and then re-edit it for an incremental 2K for marketing purposes? By my book-keeping I’ve just save the publisher 8K.

      We love books. We love authors. We love publishing (and publishers), and we’re striving to find a more workable model that will make for better books, better online marketing and hence, better sales for both the enhanced digital book as well as its traditional counterpart.

      The fact is, we are already taking greatly reduced rates in order to serve the publishing industry. What I propose is that that money is spent first as part of the development of the book itself, and then used in a more cost effective manner to market the book without duplication of effort. We are more than willing to share the risk, but we also expect to share in the reward if our efforts result in a product that sells more and better.

      Don’t you expect the same for your services?

      1. Lorilyn Roberts

        I am an author and have produced several videos covering different topics, some related to my books. I believe it’s up to the author to do whatever he can to embrace the new technologies. If an author has the ability to do more himself, he will be able to market his book more effectively versus relying on the old, outdated method which does not work for unknown authors.

        I love all the new opportunities that abound and believe for those authors who are motivated, they can be successful with the new platforms. I plan to embrace all these enhancements and continue to POD publish or self-publish. I see no reason to hand control of my book over to a publishing company who won’t care about my book as much as I do or be as motivated to market it.

        Authors have been given a great gift with social marketing, internet marketing, and technology. I am excited about the endless possibilities and look forward with great anticipation for what lies ahead with e-books.

  3. Joan Mullally

    An interesting post, however, you are again suggesting that the market needs to be tested for ebooks, when we know full well that some genres are already tried and tested. For example, historical and Regency romance have been popular for years. However, the publishing houses only have so many ‘slots’ to fill, and therefore, Regency romance has not received as many paperback opportunities in recent years. Yet ebooks allow them to continue being published, and for readers to enjoy them. Writers like Lisa Kleypas and Shannon Farrell were actually pushed to write modern romance in order to create more ‘product’ for reader, but historical readers then felt cheated when Kleypas started ‘churning them out’.
    Sorcha MacMurrough started with traditional publishing houses, but is far more prolific a writer than she would ever be allowed slots, if there are only 2 in the Regency category per month for the one or two publishers still doing them.
    Erotic romance has come to the fore in recent years; again, there was already a proven demand for it through ebooks, and NOT the other way around. Harlequin’s Carina Press is now trying to capitalize on what previously pretty much only Black Lace in the UK was working on.
    As for paranormal romance, well, unless you jumped onto the vampire bandwagon, it could be hard to sell paranormals, yet Shanna Murchison’s Druids of Destiny are very popular reads.
    So yes, video is very good as a marketing tool and certain will work with very visual books, but sometimes in romance especially, readers would rather use their imaginations.
    Again, there is no need to ‘prove’ demand for a book in the genre, only to get the book to stand out in the crowd. Which video can certainly help with.

    1. Mia Amato

      No one’s disputing that videos can be a good tool to sell books…the http://www.AReCafe.com website has its own channel for book videos, and it’s currently running a nicely produced one from the new Lisa Jackson thriller.
      Any author or publisher can submit a video, it’s a crowd-sourced site and pretty open.

      I for one would like to see someone make a video for a Regency romance. If anyone has seen one, I would like to know!

    2. Gabriel Paul


      Another word: in no way do mean to I suggest the market needs to be tested for ebooks. I am resolute that they should be first to market for most genres, and in some cases, be the only form in which book is marketed at all.

  4. Gabriel Paul


    I can’t disagree with you… Romance and Erotic have been on the cusp here. I work primarily with young adault Paranormal books… which do not go to market as ebooks first. At least not usually.

    My point is not only that the ebook should hit the market first: what I’m really addressing is the negotiated rights… my premise is that building video promotion on top of a book, with no relation to the content of the ebook means spending money twice… the ebook itself, and then the promotion, which is often seen as a disconnect, with no relation to the look and feel of the book itself. Producing that content after the fact is expensive, and often hindered by rights that prohibit a really innovative and effective social media marketing campaign.

    When an enhanced ebook is appropriate, I propose that the video content being produced to promote the book be created before the physical book, integrated into the content of the enhanced ebook, and then parsed to promote the book. It saves doing the work twice, and makes a better ebook.

    Obviously, this is not the way to market all books… only those with enhanced ebook potential.

    1. Gabriel Paul


      I am not making a case for the publisher to put the ebook out first (though I think it’s a good idea, and you brought up instances in which that has been a successful strategy).

      What I’m suggesting is, that when appropriate, an enhanced ebook be brought to market, that is, to the publisher as a lead in to the traditionally published book. And that the multimedia content be negotiated as part of the package an agent sells to a publisher, not added on after.

      That content can then be re-edited and disseminated to promote the book… and I would also maintain that is would ultimately determine the cover design. Spend your money once, use the content produced three ways.

      As far as books being picked up online, this has been a rare phenomenon, though I believe it has gained a new and deserved notoriety with Amanda Hocking’s success. Until recently, self publishing has killed a books chances for being traditionally published. Even in Amanda’s case, this is not a case of negotiating rights for digital, enhanced content upfront. It happened as a very happy result of her self published, digital success.

      But your example of Amanda Hocking is a smart one: I think that the mash up of digital and print is the way things are trending. And Amanda’s case is a stunning example of how digital success can bolster an author’s success in the traditional publishing market.

  5. Pingback: Take the E-book, Turn It on It’s End, and Shake Vigorously | Diabolical Toy


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