Wednesday, May 29, 2013

E Publishing: Where Do I Start?

I’m gearing up for possibly my favorite teaching gig, a week-long workshop at the West Texas A&M Writers Academy. It’s the only actual writing workshop I do all year, because it’s so well-run and the conditions are so perfect for real work to get done. There are only fifteen students allowed in the class, for one thing, and I can do anything I want, always a plus. The first day I do my regular Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop on story structure, and then each day we work through ALL the students’ stories, all the elements of each act, one act per day. It works like a charm, no matter where the students are in their writing process.  I’m very excited about launching into it again. I may even get some work done myself, on Book 3 of the Huntress Moon series.

This year the organizers have also asked me to teach an e publishing workshop, which means I can cover a lot of bases at once by doing some writing about it here, since I promised to do that for you all anyway.  (I love it when work lines up like that!)

And the question I get most often about e publishing is - 

“Where do I START?”

Selling a book in the e publishing world has just as many steps and pitfalls as going the traditional route. Even though in the early days of e pub a few people got lucky by just throwing a book up on KDP simply because there was so little competition out there, that was a whole maybe two years ago, and those days are over. The competition is fierce. There’s no question that launching into e publishing without having a clue what you’re doing is not going to get you very far.

On the other hand, there is no way to learn this stuff without being hands-on about it.

There are other resources I'll be posting for you, but it’s tempting to just say: Go read Joe Konrath’s  Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog, in reverse order, from 2006 on. And maybe that is the best advice I could possibly give. Then you’d get it all as it actually unfolded from the actual leader of the revolution. I should actually take that advice myself, but, you know, the time thing.

It is a lot to sort through (and for God’s sake, if you do it, don’t get lost in the Comments!).

But there’s something even more basic that you need to do if you are thinking of e publishing.

Get an e reader. And USE it.

I have to say that because it is astonishing to me when I hear authors talking about e publishing who don’t even read on an e reader.  Reading an e book on your laptop or phone is not going to do it. You will fool yourself that you get it when actually you don’t have a clue. There is NO WAY you are going to understand the incredible sea change that has occurred if you are not using the technology and understanding why and how readers are buying. You can’t. And I think once you’ve experienced the thrill of having an entire library in the palm of your hand, the delicious indulgence of being able to download ANY BOOK YOU WANT, INSTANTLY, you’ll understand why this is the greatest invention since the wheel, and why as an author OF COURSE you want to make your books available this way.

Which e reader? No contest. If you’re an author looking to make a living, you must get and understand a Kindle. I'm sorry if there are people who don't like that answer but that IS the answer. I do not know of one author who is making a living at self-publishing who is not doing it primarily through the Amazon platform. And all the authors I know who are making good money on Nook and Kobo sales launched themselves with Amazon.  I’m being basic here and that is as basic as it gets.

An e reader is easy to operate, you’ll see. So once you have one, what you want to do is start buying books. Or sampling them, it doesn’t matter, and sampling is totally free (Sampling: in the Amazon store, you can download several chapters of any book to your Kindle for free. If you do not have an Amazon Store account, you need to set one up. It's easy.).  Sampling is an important thing to learn – among other things it will teach you volumes about your own writing, and what has to go in your FIRST CHAPTERS).  But it’s also a no-cost way to learn the device and experience e reading.

You want to sample books that are in your own genre, and you want to sample a lot of self-published books as well as traditionally published books . The 99 cent ones (brace yourself...) the $2.99 ones, the $3.99 ones, and the $9.99 and yike, $12.99 traditionally published ones.  Try authors you haven’t heard of whose books sound interesting. (Don’t forget Huntress Moon, Blood Moon, or any of the fine titles you can simply click through to sample if you just look to the right of this blog...).

Take an hour or two and download and read twenty samples in a row, and take notes. Did you want to keep reading at the end of the sample, or could you not get through it at all?  Is there a difference between 99 cent books, $2.99 ones, $3.99 ones, and the $9.99 or $12.99 ones put out by traditional publishers?  If there is a difference, what IS the difference?  Would you pay $12.99 for an e book? If so, which authors would you pay it for, and which wouldn't you?

Wade into the market and see what’s out there. Get the lay of the land, and ask questions here. 

So there, I’ve given you a couple of practical tasks that will get your feet wet.

You didn’t think you were going to learn this overnight, did you?

I hope not. Get a grip.  E publishing is a full-time job, just like traditional publishing is. But if you don’t start now, a year from now you’ll still be asking, “Where do I start?”

- Alex

Huntress Moon,  $3.99

A driven FBI agent is on the hunt for that most rare of all killers:
a female serial.

Blood Moon, on sale now:  99 cents

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon DE


Nicola said...

This is a great post, as I've been asking the 'How do I start?' question for a while, and all the while putting off buying a kindle, (whilst reading on my Kindle For PC.) Insane behaviour. Thanks to your post,I'm going to remedy that immediately. Loved Huntress Moon, just bought Blood Moon and am loving that too. I also love this blog, it never fails to inspire me. Thanks for writing.

Richard Maguire said...

Hi Alex.

It's always great to read your blog. Reminds me how much we all miss Murderati, and the latest take on the publishing world.

Isn't it always going to be a problem for an author self-publishing that, no matter how much care he/she takes to launch an E-book, it will all be for nothing without a good marketing strategy?

I'm "overwhelmed" by the amount of fiction on the Kindle that hasn't been traditionally published. Some of it, IMO, is very good indeed. And you'd have to wonder if the book was submitted to a publishing house and was rejected, and why. These are titles I buy because, first of all, the story sounds interesting, but equally important the price is reasonable.

Now I'm buying these books - by authors I've never heard of - purely by chance. Which makes me wonder if writers put their books out there with little or no publicity, hoping they'll attract readers who find the premise interesting. Readers like me.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Nicola, believe me, you are NOT the only author I've heard that from. Yes, you have to use the technology to understand how to sell on it! You'll love the Kindle, too, I swear.

Thanks so much for buying the books - and loving them!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Richard! You're absolutely right. It's insane for an author, known or unknown, to think they can e publish without a thorough marketing strategy. There are just far too many books out there to rely on readers to randomly find you, even though obviously that does happen.

It is a LOT of work for an author to self-promote, and most people simply aren't up to the grueling task. But it's no different than the amount of promotion you have to do as a traditionally published author, and I personally find the payoffs more rewarding.

Ellen said...

Class sounds like a blast! Wish I were there . . .

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Not till next week, but you would absolutely love it. Wish you were coming, too!

George Snyder said...

Enjoyed your presentation at the Cal-Crimewriters Convention. I've ordered your screenwriting for authors book. We did meet briefly, I wanted to tell you that you did a great job. Very nice to look at too.
George Snyder