Authors create content, readers consume content, everyone else is in between.
This has been our mantra at Who Dares Wins Publishing. We are both content providers (my backlist and frontlist of over 45 titles helps) but we are also ‘in between’ for our other authors. As such, we’ve had to constantly ask ourselves what are we doing for our content providers to make our presence worthwhile?
At the panel on self-publishing at Digital Book World in January, Jeremy Greenfield, the moderator, asked me what the difference was between the services I provided authors and the flat fee, one-time service BookBaby provided authors in formatting and uploading their eBooks.
It’s a question that every agent, editor, publisher, bookstore—ie everyone in the business– is going to have to answer sooner rather than later. The gap, in both time and space, between author and reader is no more than a WiFi connection. To step into that gap, we must provide a value.
Some of these are obvious: editing is one that springs to mind. Formatting. Covers.
Some roles, the mainstays of traditional publishing, are outmoded. Distribution is no longer king (yes, I know print still outsells eBooks but take out your top 5% of authors and really??). Discoverability is key. Since traditional publishing’s business model was essentially wrapped around distribution, this is such a fundamental change one wonders if most of those in traditional publishing will survive it.
I’m seeing a rash of blog posts where authors and editors and agents “defend” traditional publishing. They explain the value of what is provided. I don’t disagree but the answers are rooted in the past, not the future. They are reactionary rather than bold and innovative.
Let me give you some of what fills the gap and needs to be understood. I had to articulate most of this when my business partner, Jen Talty and I, wrote (and published within a few months) The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author. I write most of my nonfiction as Standing Operating Procedures, a habit from my time in the Special Forces. They are written initially not for others, but to formalize and codify what I do for myself. I find writing things out makes them real. I’m a huge fan of SOPs from the time it took my A-Team 6 months to develop our team SOP. Everyone “knew” what they were doing, but when asked to specifically lay out what they were doing in writing, we found there were large gaps. How exactly did we roll up the stick on a drop zone deep in enemy territory in a secure manner? How would a new member of the team learn how to do it? That’s how Jen and I set out to write ShelfLess.
Jen and I laid out how we took WDWPUB from selling 347 eBooks in January 2011 to over 400,000 for the year. What did we do right? What did we do wrong? How are eBooks different from print books? Not just in format, but in marketing?
I’ll post a lot of what we learned on this blog, but here are some nuggets:
eBooks are organic. They are not static. You do a hardcover print run, the book is done. Now you have to distribute it. Not so for an eBook. You can change it instantly. You can churn your marketing metadata constantly. You can change covers. Product description. The book itself. Links. I like to say eBooks are not like old-fashioned artillery where you’d call back to the battery about the rounds they just fired and they’d reply “looked good when it left the tube.” They are more like Predator drones that you can maneuver and adjust for pinpoint accuracy.
An example of this would be Jen redoing some of our books as we roll them through various marketing plans and promotional opportunities. She’s doing three things. First, she’s updating our books based on some new technology and things she’s learned to make her job as formatter easier. Second, she’s changing the end matter, inserting images of book covers with buy link for that specific store. This means she has to create a separate file for Kindle, for iBooks, for Kobo, for Barnes and Noble and other platform we have our books on. Finally, she’s using bitly.com to create links so she can track how often people are clicking from inside the book to another book. This doesn’t measure sales, but it can tell us things like if a particular book isn’t getting a lot of clicks it could be the cover is an issue and then we can adjust accordingly.
She’s also working on updating metadata inside the eBooks to increase maximum search engine opportunities. Jen does this for all our authors.
The platforms themselves are constantly changing. Kobo is updating, which makes Jen very happy. KF8 (the latest Mobi update) is here. This change in particular is one that authors and publishers need to look at carefully and check how their eBooks read on the Kindle Fire and other Kindle devices. Foreign markets are opening to Amazon and Apple. Jen loves Amazon because the books are loaded without her having to do anything. With Apple, she has to go into our account and add each new territory manually with every single book. Not so bad, except for when they jumped from 6 territories to 32 and we have close to 100 titles.
Marketing has changed dramatically. Social Media might not “sell” books, but today’s market place is all about platform and presence. It’s not about direct sales, but connections and when you remove ‘everyone in between’ you give the reader a direct connection to the content provides. And that is what it’s all about. How can we help our authors do that without getting in the way?
If we have to spend more time defending our job than doing our job, we’ll know we have a problem.