Archive | April, 2014

The whys and wherefores of Book Distribution

29 Apr

Spring!

Oh! But first – after the longest, coldest, most miserable winter Cleveland has known for at least the last 30 years, I am entirely pleased to announce – Spring has sprung! Finally.  My tulips are almost out. The above photo was taken April 28, 2014. In 2012, by comparison, they bloomed on March 15!

Okay, sorry. Back to business.

Book publishers produce books, with the help of the companies that manufacture them. Chief among these are the printing companies, of course. But, once the books are made, how do they get to the bookstores and libraries around the country?  There are perhaps half a dozen options, and most of them carry the name of Ingram, in one of its many corporate identities.  They not only distribute most of the books published in this country by traditional (advance against royalties) publishers in this country, they also have a Print-on-Demand publishing venture, plus the capability to produce e-books.

The next largest distributor is Baker & Taylor, followed closely by Brodart Books.  The Book House primarily services libraries.  There are perhaps another handful (if you can find them) which serve specific genres.

Generally speaking, it’s difficult to get major distribution without using one of these companies. Recently they have begun to acknowledge the fact of self-publishing life, but in a sort of reverse mode. The library or book store has to specifically request the self-published book, which will probably not be listed in any catalog, such as those sent out by the big publishers.

Then there is the cost factor. In 1999 or thereabouts, Ingram began to charge 55% of the cover price of any book to provide distribution of the book to its bookstore/library customers. Yes, indeed, this means that the publisher and author will split the remaining 45% of the cover price betwixt themselves! Now, it’s not that Ingram gets the entire 55% for itself, no – it gets between 10 and 20%, as the bookstore/library customer will get the book for a 30 to 40%  discount off the cover price.  To be more clear: For each one dollar of book cover price, the publisher gets 45%, the distributor will get 10 to 20%, and the bookstore/library gets a 35% discount. From the remaining 65%, the publisher gets 45% and the distributor gets 20%. These are not hard and fast numbers. A larger bookstore chain or library system might be able to negotiate a better price based on quantity.

Such a customer buying a million total copies in a month (say a large metropolitan library system) will be able to pay less for book than the small indie store down the street. On the other hand, a small publisher (small press) might have to subsist on only 25% of the cover price, as the distribution will take up the rest of it. Is it any wonder that book prices are so high? Don’t forget all the employees and sub-contractors of the publisher (everyone who worked on the book—cover artist, publicist, editors, etc.) must be paid out of that 45% earned by the big publisher.

Unfortunately, in this setup, it’s the author who gets it in the neck!  The author MAY earn between 6 and 10% of the cover price. However, the advance, if there is one, must and will be re-paid to the publisher before the author sees one penny of royalties. And then, said author will not see any money at all from royalties for perhaps two years! However, by the time returns are factored in, there may be no earned royalties at all. (Gulp.)

To be sure, self-publishing these days is extremely easy, and perhaps the only real complaint about it is the so-called lack of distribution. But this is a lack of perception, actually. [Remember, my experience with this has only been with Amazon and their CreateSpace, so I can’t speak with any authority at all about any other system.] They do offer expanded distribution, which earns less per copy, but they do make it available to other sales outlets. I know this, because I bought one of my own books a few days after last Christmas (just to see how it worked.) I placed the order at Barnes & Noble on-line, for slightly less than the cover price, and in spite of the early-January blizzard that hit our area, the book was in my hands on the sixth day after I’d ordered it! I think that is nothing short of amazing.

It’s also very comforting to know that should an egregious error have made its way into the print version, it is ever so easy to fix. You simply tell CreateSpace that you need to upload a different file, and voilà! Done. It may take another day to be sure it’s all okay this time around, but there are no books to be trashed in the process. Nice, eh? (Of course, the same principle applies to books published through Kindle.)

In addition, because of Amazon’s international store-fronts, people in nine countries are able to purchase the print book directly from their own Amazon:  the US, UK, Canada, Spain, France, India, Italy, Germany and Japan. Currently, China and Australia offer only the Kindle versions, however.  Still, it’s hard to argue with that vast network.

But to me, the clincher is this. In addition to owning my book (I’m responsible for all of it – even if I hire someone to help out with cover art or whatever) I am in charge of the entire marketing process. Well, almost. Kindle offers an amazing amount of marketing support with their best-seller lists. I had no clue, to be honest about it, until the day I happened to notice that one of my Christmas novellas was on the top 100 best-seller list! Eeegads and little fishes! From then, I paid very close attention, let me tell you! I had friends in other countries send me blurbs that Amazon had sent them which included my book. I never lifted a finger to have all this attention!

P. S. My Regency alter-ego Hetty St. James has posted part one of a two part article about Georgian/Regency fashion today. If you’re interested, you may see it here. http://wp.me/p3JwVs-8g  Thank you! 

Questions? Comments?  Please write to me:  bookmechanicATgmail.com  Cheers!

 

 

Short or long?

15 Apr

Do you like short stories? I love ‘em! Not that I’d want to do away with book-length fiction – not by a long shot! But still, the variety of shorter stories is amazing. And sometimes a shortie is just what you have time for.

It’s hard to believe that for the first 60 or so years of the twentieth century, almost every magazine printed (on paper, not electronic!) – and there were bunches of them! – no matter the theme or subject matter, carried at least one short story. And frequently, more than one. Many of them would have a summer ‘beach-reading’ special, with half a dozen or so short stories in the one issue. Generally speaking, I think I’m safe in saying that these stories were between 2500 and 10,000 words. The best thing is they always had a beginning, a middle and an end. You always knew where you stood with these stories. Unless, of course, they were part of a ‘serial’ and published in chapter format. Many great novels began this way – quite possibly the most famous were the books of Charles Dickens and later, Sir Adrian Conan Doyle’s fabulous creation – Sherlock Holmes.

Believe it or not, nearly every magazine published – even men’s magazines devoted to mechanics or hunting & fishing – included short fiction in their editorial content. Without even really trying, I came up with 39 titles – in all genres – which gave us short fiction.  Check out this list, which I know is nowhere near complete.

Adventure Graphic Story Magazine Radio Times
Analog Science Fact & Fiction Jack and Jill Real
Battle Cry Ladies’ Home Journal Redbook
Better Homes & Gardens Look Saturday Evening Post
Coronet Mademoiselle Seventeen
Cosmopolitan (the original!) Male Spicy Detective
Dynamic Science Stories Man’s Conquest Stag
Ebony Man’s Illustrated The Great Monster Magazines
Field & Stream Man’s Life True Confessions
For Men Only McCall’s True Mechanic
Fury Photoplay Vogue
Galaxy Science Fiction Popular Mechanics Woman’s Day
Good Housekeeping Popular Romance Wonder Stories

While searching for more, I came across this collage, which I found wonderfully fascinating. I hope you like it too!   (I think the easiest way for you to find it is:  Type ‘popular magazines in the 1950s’ into the Google searchbox, then click on Images.

Image

At any rate, the market for short stories is once again growing rapidly, thanks to the internet. There are probably hundreds of e-zines out there, devoted to every subject known to man – or woman. Or child, for that matter. And, further, I’ll bet that almost all of the great writers of the middle to last years of the previous century started out writing short stories. They’re great for teaching craft – and learning about plot, developing characters, how to ‘show, don’t tell’ and creating the right setting for the story. You can learn about dialogue – and dialect, develop action or leave it static. The possibilities are virtually endless. You can develop your own voice – or several voices! Not to mention different styles, as well.

I didn’t exactly start out to write short stories – I just wanted to write. But over the last almost 40 years, I’ve written a bunch of them in various genres. A good many of them could be categorized as light romance, but they’re mostly too short to be considered seriously as romance. In 2002, I self-published an anthology of 18 stories, ranging from 420 to 18,500 words. A couple of those stories won awards (and a couple more came close, but no cigar!) and several of them were eventually published, some by me and some by a real publisher. Now I’m busily accumulating more short stories to flesh out the remaining stories in that first anthology, to be published later this year at CreateSpace. The title is: Brief Interludes. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens! I think I have two more to go! Or maybe three.

One of the greatest benefits to the beginning writer is being able to finish something fairly quickly! A short story generally writes faster than a novel. That’s a major bonus, I think, and I highly recommend it to my students as well as anyone else who wants to write. Another nice bonus is that usually you sell ‘first-time rights’ which is only for that particular publisher. Once the host issue is out there, the rights revert to the author, and it can be sold again. But it would be nice to wait a while before you do that – at least a year. Then try for a different sort of market – not a direct competitor to the first purchaser. That might backfire on the writer, and rightly so, in my mind.

So, good luck with the shorties – and thank you again for reading! The first piece posted at this blog was in April, 2010! Hard to believe so much time has flown by! Thank you to all of you!

As always, if you have comments or questions, please write to me at bookmechanicATgmail.com

A book is a book — is a book?

2 Apr

When is a book not exactly a ‘book’? Maybe, when it’s an e-book? But not really.

As I wrote last time –  A book is a book is a book! Regardless of how it’s published, it’s still a book! Indeed, that is true. If your words are somehow issued in a format that makes them possible to be read by others, and you get paid by those astute folks, then, in my estimation – it’s a book.  If the words are not printed on paper, but sent through some electronic medium or other, then it’s an e-book!

Personally, as an old fogey, I don’t believe e-books will ever replace paper books. They do have their place, however, and a convenient one it is. Last spring, when I went to Colorado and back on the train, my dandy little NOOK was not only a library, but also a music player. There was no wi-fi on my train, but I’d put a batch of MP3s in my NOOK, so I could listen to my own music while in my compartment. The train thoughtfully provides electric outlets in each compartment, so I could keep it charged up! This little NOOK (the HD) has a computer in it, but my fingers are too fat to type on that miniscule keyboard, so I also carried my laptop. My next acquisition, the larger NOOK (HD+) also has a computer, but even better, thanks to Android, I have a Kindle app on there, too. To me, this is the best of both possible worlds!

The very first e-book I ever bought was a Georgian/Regency romance by Laurie Alice Eakes. In January, 2000, it came on a floppy disc, in HTML coding. I bought it to support the author, just as I’d bought hundreds of paperback books to support other authors in the  13 years I’d belonged to RWA. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read Laurie Alice’s book because I found the HTML to be beyond difficult. Lines of type that extended from one side of the monitor to the other were impossible for me. I tried to re-format it, but that was just too tedious and never-ending. It’s still in my computer, however, and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to do it.

E-books weren’t exactly a high priority for me, as I really preferred the traditional book. The early e-readers (at least the ones I saw) were somewhat bulky and balky, and didn’t carry much of a charge, so you could easily run out of juice at just the wrong moment. That seldom happens with a paper book.  And then there were so many different kinds of e-readers, who knew what to get? Would the format that it supported have the books you wanted to read? Maybe. Maybe not. They were NOT interchangeable.

Among the early e-readers were the Sony Librié, Rocket, Softbook, CYbook and Bookeen. Occasionally another one would pop up for a brief time, then disappear, such as the Microsoft Reader, which lived in your computer. The first mass-produced e-reader was the Amazon Kindle, which virtually exploded the then marketplace. Soon after, Barnes & Noble came out with the NOOK, and then everyone created something to perform the same functions, including Apple and Google.  The Kindle went on sale in 2007, and in July of 2010, Amazon announced that it sold more e-books than hardcover books during the second quarter of that year: 140 e-books for every 100 hardcover books. Kindle has broken sales records every quarter since then.

Now, of course, you can even read on your phone – if you can see that well, that is. Lots of us can’t, so we won’t be a very good customer for those devices, if that’s the only reason to have one.

That should not stop anyone from writing for that market however. Nearly every traditional publisher also provides their books in a multitude of e-book formats – in multiple markets. BUT – even if you’re not affiliated with a traditional publisher, that shouldn’t hold you back, if you really want to be published in e-book format.

Publishing on Kindle is amazingly easy. They issue easy-to-read and understand instructions, and provide a space to upload both the innards and the cover (in separate files). You don’t even have to know any special coding or formatting! They do it all for you, and then they offer a ‘digital proofer’ so you can see (before you publish it) how it looks. Some things you can change easily, some require more serious attention. (One little word to the wise: fancy fonts don’t work. Use a plain serif font, instead, and save the fancy stuff for print on paper, which pretty much stays where you put it!) I would strongly encourage anyone considering this venture  to pay really good attention! When it’s your name on that cover, you want it to be in the very best condition possible. This means professional editing and proof-reading, too! Once it’s the way you really want it, you can make it available in any of the Kindle stores, internationally.  Another bonus: you can insert photographs in B&W or color and they work well!

But the best part, really, is that from the day you put your book up there for sale, you can see what it’s doing in all those various marketplaces. You can issue yourself a daily sales report, if you wish. And two or three months later, you’ll reap the benefits of those sales.  Presuming there are some, and there most likely would be. If your book falls into a really popular niche, you might well surprise even yourself with your success! I would also encourage you to pay attention to the pricing of your e-book. For instance, a novella of 20,000 words, should not be priced the same as a novel of 75,000 words! It should also be lower in cost that the traditional version of the same length, etc.  You’ll definitely sell more over time, with that lower price. If you stumble, however, you can always change it later.

I heartily encourage you to try. Don’t be afraid of the Brave New World of publishing! It’s waiting out there to welcome you with friendly, open arms!

Next time we’ll talk about short stories – do you like to write them? If so, then, what do you do with them?

As always, if you have a question or a comment, please do write to me: bookmechanicATgmail.com