The eBook is not dead: self-published authors are making a killing!

You might have heard some murmurings recently about how eBook sales have slumped, and the electronic way of reading is now on its way out in favor of the traditional printed book. And while it is true that we have regained our love for a print book, and they are not going to be replaced anytime soon with eBooks, the digital versions of our favorite novels are not dead, they’re just making a killing for others.

A new report, published by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has shown that, in the US at least, the sales of eBooks are just as steady as those of print and audio books, and sales continue to grow at the same rate. The difference, however, between eBooks and print books, is that the digital books seeing high levels of sales are published by self-published authors, instead of the big traditional publishing companies.

PwC says that, in the data collected from traditional publishing houses, it does appear that the sales of eBooks have dropped. That data, though, doesn’t take into account those authors who publish by themselves or using a small publishing house to help them through the tricky woods of self-publishing. Another report, this time coming from a site called Author Earnings, was publishing recently based on tracked downloads on Amazon, the giant website which sees 75% of all eBook sales go through its website.

This report clearly shoes the popularity in eBook sales from self-published authors grow in the space of the last year, while those digital copies of books published by the Big Five publishing houses (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) have slumped, effectively swapping places with self-published books. Less than 30% of the eBook market is held by the Big Five publishers, while almost 45% of it is seen and enjoyed by self-published, or indie, authors.

The figures from Author Earnings also show that, despite the fact that traditional publishers as a whole make more gross dollars from eBooks, the authors themselves are actually making a killing on the sales of their eBooks, because they take home 70% of the sales of each book, instead of the 10 to 15% that traditionally published authors take home. This means that self-published authors can afford to lower the price of their titles, driving up sales, and getting themselves on that coveted best seller list.

So the eBook is not dead, and neither is the self-published author. They’re just working together in harmony, making a killing.

Competitions, why enter?

Have you ever read about a story competition and wondered why you should bother entering, when your main goal is to get your book published and sold in stores? Well story competitions of all kinds are not just good for your own personal practice, but they can also earn you feedback that is crucial to the overall success of your self-published book. What are the advantages of writing for a competition? Read on…

  1. Even if you don’t win a competition, you have the opportunity to gain feedback from those judging as to their thoughts on your story, and in the process you’ve got your name out there to other professionals.
  2. You might wonder why you’d waste your time on creating something just so that you can enter a competition, but if you have something you are already working on, you can often just edit it to match the theme that the competition is asking for. If it’s a short story competition, then most writers have something small up their sleeve that they can pull out, whether it’s an idea that has been formulating in your head, or something that you started work on years ago but never got around to finishing. Now is your time.
  3. There are so many free competitions to enter out there, so what have you got to lose by getting yourself involved? It costs you no money, and just an inch of your time, and you could earn some serious cash from it, with some prizes worth four figures.
  4. The exposure that you could gain from winning, or coming as a runner-up in a competition is more valuable than paid-for marketing. Those judging these competitions are always experts in the field, they might be publishers, established authors or editors. They know what they are talking about, and if they’re advertising your name and your writing, then you know you’ve come up golden. These people will remember you, they’ll look out for your work on the shelves, and they’ll be some of your biggest fans when your book finally does come to fruition.
  5. It gives you an idea of how your work will be received. If you don’t win, and you are not able to be provided with feedback from the judges, at least you know that this particular piece of writing is not going to be on a bestseller list. Take that silent feedback, run with it, and try again. If nothing else, it will give you good practice for getting your writing absolutely perfect, and you’ll be on the shelves, and those bestseller lists, before you know it.

If you want an idea of which short story competitions to enter, here is a pretty good comprehensive list that should help you out. Good luck!

The Library at Night: Letting you in to those places you might never go

Have you ever fancied having a look around the Megabibliotheca in Mexico City or the ancient Biblioteco Vasconcelos in the city of Alexandria, or just have a nosy in the Library of Canadian Parliament? Well actually, you can, and all you have to do is sit in a room full of trees and books to do it.

A partnership between Ex Machina, Robert LePage, Alberto Manguel and the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec (BAnQ) in Montreal has brought 10 of the most fascinating, beautiful or historic libraries from past and present directly to your hands, or eyes, in a creative exhibition unlike anything you’ll ever have seen before. Due to finish at the end of August, the exhibition has been running since October last year, and I had the opportunity to take it in while I was in Montreal last November, and was blown away by the majesty of the ability that it gives you to take in the traditions of books and reading from the past, as well as in other cultures.

As you walk into BAnQ, you are taken to a small room which is set up to look like a very small, personal library, with old books and fireplaces and relics from days gone past. After a short speech about what’s to come, you proceed into the main exhibition room, a large space filed with trees with books as leaves, and sit at one of the many tables which are adorned with reading lamps.

Then you put on your video immersion headset, and you’re transported to a world of libraries, where nobody else knows you, nobody can interrupt you and all you can see are people enjoying the written word, immersing themselves in an alternate reality. From a Japanese library where traditions and reading intertwined, to a Buddhist library where only monks were allowed to enter, and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the gems that you discover while you enter and depart from each of the incredible structures is just as fascinating.

The Library at Night, so called after Alberto Manguel’s book of the same name (in French), was designed to help visitors fall back in love with libraries as they take a virtual tour of some of the most beautiful ones in the world. The library has been open in Montreal for 10 years, and is trying to make its mark on the city as a bridge between the technological world and home life, and create a new meeting place, almost like a church, where people can get together, learn something new, and have their minds engaged.

The exhibition, which is available in both French and English, is well worth a visit, because even if you hadn’t thought of visiting a library before, you will afterwards. Because why miss out on a tour you can take while sitting on a comfortable chair, in a beautiful room, in an exquisite city?

How to self-publish a bestseller: more tips for success

You can never have too many tips, can you? It’s a been a little while since we published tips to get your book self-published, so we thought that it was about time you had some further encouragement to get that book off your computer and into the presses.

Most of these tips are about building your brand and getting your book sold, and surprisingly you might need to do a lot of these before you’ve even had your book printed, or before you’ve even finished it. Remember, this is about self-publishing a bestseller, not self-publishing something that will sell just a few copies and then you’ll move on and get back to your day job. I know that nobody really wants to do that.

Tip #1: Build your brand. By brand, I mean your name, you want people to know who you are, or at least have the opportunity to find out more about who you are once they hear about you and your book. This means building a twitter page, Facebook, Instagram and a blog, and gaining authentic followers on all of these platforms. It will take time, but if you are true to yourself, talk about real issues and things that affect you, and engage in conversation, you’ll get there.

Tip #2: Write and read. Even if you’ve finished your book, you should keep your creative juices flowing and try to write a least something every day. Similarly, read things by great writers to keep inspired. The more creative and inspirational you are, the better your overall output will be when you finally do come to self-publish your bestseller.

Tip #3: Get people to help you. And by people, I don’t just mean your other half and your parents, I mean people who really know what they are doing. Hire independent editors, designer or marketing executives to really steer you on the right track. If you’re not publishing traditionally, then you’ll need that extra edge that comes with the traditional publishing houses, and while it might will cost at the beginning, in the long run it will be a lot more rewarding for your brand.

Tip #5: Edit. Edit yourself, get your next door neighbour to edit, your old English professor, anybody you can. But also hire an editor. An editor is there for much more than spelling and grammar, they can turn your book from something that will sell a dozen copies to something that will sell thousands.

Tip #6: Pick your design and your title wisely. Thing about things that are going to jump out at people, and not just by making your front cover bright yellow. Make sure you like your cover, the spine, the fonts and the inside jacket, and make sure whoever is designing them really knows what they’re doing. Just because you used Adobe Photoshop at school doesn’t make you a graphic designer. Similarly with the title, make sure you like it, but make sure others do, too. Ask around, test it out, conduct market research, whatever you can do to make sure it’ll be well received.

Of course, self-publishing tips could go on forever, but if your book is going to be a bestseller, then you should at least start here.

Reading habits haven’t changed that much then, according to art historians

With people the world over worried about the development of reading habits, whether we read traditional books, self-published books or e-books, or not at all, there are those fearing that reading is becoming a dying art. But a recent study into the reading habits of medieval Europeans have revealed that we are not so different from our ancestors, and neither are our reading habits.

Kathryn Rudy, an Art History lecturer at the University of St Andrews recently embarked on a project of analysing several 15th and early 16th century prayer books from Europe in order to discover more information about the reading habits of our medieval ancestors. Of course, these books couldn’t tell exactly how much the books were read, or how often people spent time sitting down with a glass of wine and a good book, but Ms Rudy was able to tell what portions of the books particularly interested those that were living at the time, thanks to the darkness of thumbed pages.

The pages that were the dirtiest turned out to be the most read, while those that were clean meant that they were of little interest to medieval readers and were probably not read so much. Just like us, then, the study revealed that readers were worried about illnesses, and the books that were studied showed that the most popular pages were about the plague, and a particular prayer that was said to ward off the disease was also very well read.

In another nod to modern times, Rudy said that pages containing prayers for personal redemption as opposed to that of other people were eagerly delivered in the past.

Of course, the simple reading of a prayer book is not as common in modern times, especially as in the past, according to Rudy, personal health and religion were one and the same, and so in order to remain in good physical health many people would spent the modern equivalent of tens of thousands of pounds on prayer books. Now, where we might pay a visit to the doctor, those living in medieval times might prefer to say a prayer at key prayer times throughout the day.

One last similarity between our modern reading habits and those of our ancestors, is the art of falling asleep while reading, as Rudy said that a particular prayer earmarked for reading in the early hours of the morning showed clear signs of putting the reader to sleep. Those particular prayers had clearly been thumbed through heavily for the first few pages, but the following pages were cleaner, and showed that the readers did not finish, and most likely all fell asleep at the same point. So if you fall asleep when reading, don’t worry, it’s an old family trait!

Adult colouring books: a childish fad or an important development in therapy?

When five out of ten of Amazon’s bestselling books are colouring books, one has to wonder just what exactly it is about the adult colouring faze that has swept not just the nation but the world. Forget writing your great novel, think about designing an adult colouring book, that’s where the money is, you might think.

There is split opinion as to whether or not the rise of colouring books for those above the age of eight is just a faze, or whether it’s actually something good, or in some cases, bad for us. An article in the Telegraph recently called adult colouring books a childish fad that is actually serving to regress our educational and developmental progression. The writer in not so many words said that adults favouring books, movies and other activities designed for children is proof that modern culture is abandoning the idea of adulthood, resigning themselves to the fact that becoming an adult is hard work, discouraging and unromantic.

This is perhaps true in one way or another, but simply enjoying animated movies or reading books in the young adult category does not necessarily mean that one is avoiding becoming an adult, it simply means that we no longer see categories as boundaries. Blurring those boundaries, surely means that modern culture has become more open, more flexible, and more willing to accept things at face value rather than reading between the lines.

There is another argument that adult colouring books are none of the above. Not a fad, not proof of our resistance, or evidence of our flexibility, but actually a tool for therapy and meditation. When one of my friends recently lost somebody close to him, he was given a colouring book as something to focus on when he needed a distraction, some quiet time or soothing. It seems to be a common idea, as the National Post  recently published an article about a mother who lost her 10 week old son and found her solace in a colouring book.

Psychologists believe that colouring books can work just as well as other stress relieving techniques such as yoga and meditation, and according to Craig Sawchuk from the Mayo Clinic when he spoke to the National Post, colouring can help to slow down the heart rate and respiration, ultimately calming somebody down, as well as relax your muscles and stimulate the brain. This essentially is a grounding technique, which can be used for anybody going through any kind of mental discomfort to focus on the object at hand, and take a break from whatever else is going on in your life. It doesn’t have to be all about stress relief, grief or healing from trauma, because everybody needs a little time out every once in a while, so why not do it while colouring?!

Do you spend much time in bookshops? Well, you might change your mind now

When I think of bookshops, I usually think of a quick nip into Waterstone’s on the High Street or a specific search on Amazon, unfortunately. But recently, bookshops have been making a come-back, and I’ve seen some amazing ideas to lure us all back in for a browse.

From a coffee shop-cum-bookstore in Greenville, South Carolina, to Powell’s World of Books in Portland, Oregon, it’s clear that the USA knows what they’re doing when they try to beat Amazon at its own game. I’ve found some bookstores a little closer to home, however, that also have me wanting to travel just for the fun of a browse around its shelves.

For example, there’s a store called Leakey’s in the small town of Inverness, in Scotland, which is in a converted Gaelic church. Having been open for almost 40 years, the independent second hand store has an old-world feel to it in amongst the rows and rows of books. There’s even a log fire, with nooks and crannies in which to sit and read, work or just take in the space around you.

Pop across to the continent and track down Portugal’s roaming bookstore. Named “Tell a Story,” this bookstore runs out of an old camper van, and travels around the country selling Portuguese literature, translated to English, to tourists and others that are interested. There are also pens and postcards for sale, perfect for anybody wanting to tell their own stories and send them on.

Continuing the theme of travel, another roaming bookstore, this one in England, is located on an old Barge, usually located in Lichfield but it does travel around the canals of the UK and has done since 2011. The Book Barge is a 60 foot narrow boat, selling books to anybody who stumbles upon it, and there’s usually a picturesque countryside to take in while you browse the shelves as well.

If you ever find yourself in Alnwick, England, then make sure you take a trip to Barter Books. This store is actually where the Second World War poster campaign, Keel Calm and Carry On, was uncovered, and the huge store has lines of poetry decorating its walls and model trains running along the tops of the bookcases. It’ll feel like you’re in a dream, and it certainly will be a good one.

One of the most interesting bookstore stories is perhaps Atlantis Books in Santorini, in Greece. The store in a Cliffside villa has been described as the most beautiful bookshop in the world, and it was the dream of two university friends who were on holiday on the island and decided to open a bookstore after a few glasses of wine. The store has a homely feel, and hosts regular books clubs, poetry readings and might even open an art gallery in due course. There are books in many languages, and those that run it also have a small printing press in the back, and dogs and cats that run around while you browse.

Feel like going for a browse now? Yeah, me too!

Let Books Be Books: a parents’ campaign for children’s books

A parents’ campaign to remove genders from titles of children’s books has taken down another major publisher who has wowed that all of its titles from now on will be gender neutral and available for all kids, whether they are male or female.

The Let Books Be Books campaign, began by a group of parents in 2014 to persuade book publishers around the world that putting gender specific titles on their books send messages of limitation to children, and that colouring book covers pink or blue do the same thing to persuade young minds that they can only appreciate princesses and pink dresses, or action figures and space trucks. The campaign has already, in its first two years, persuaded nine publishing houses including Ladybird and Usborne that they should drop gendered books titles, and the latest publisher to agree to the campaign is Buster Books, part of the independent press Michael O’Mara.

Let Books Be Books has support from several well regarded authors such as Joanne Harris and Neil Gaiman, who agree that “blue covers, with themes of action and adventures, robots, space, trucks and pirates contrast with a riot of pink sparkles, fairies, princesses, flowers and butterflies.” Michael O’Mara previously refused to get on board with the campaign, telling the Guardian in 2014 that “when you have a colouring book which is specifically for a boy or a girl, it sells three times as many copies as one without the sexual categorisation.”

However it appears that now the publishing company has given in to the campaign as it posted on Twitter last week that going forward all of its titles will be gender neutral, scrapping books that are targeted specifically for boys or girls. “Buster has one of the highest number of gendered books,” said Tessa Trabue of the Let Books Be Books campaign, as she congratulated the big publishing firm on “putting the interests of children before profit.”

However, the campaign still has a fair way to go if it plans to eradicate gender specificity entirely from children’s books, and Igloo Books is one of the next publishers on its list. The publisher is one of the biggest publishers of gendered books, according to the campaign, and Ms Trabue said that Let Books Be Books have not received any response from the company to their “petition, emails or tweets,” since the beginning of their campaign two years ago.

The CEO for Igloo Books, John Styring, told the Guardian that he didn’t believe it was the company’s place to make decision on the behalf of their customers. However, children’s authors including writer John Dougherty, chair of the Society of Authors’ children’s writers and illustrators group, said “the idea of ‘books for boys’ or ‘books for girls’ has become a pernicious way of reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes from an early age.”

5 reasons why you should attend a writer’s workshop this year

Have you ever taken a writing class, attended a workshop or even been part of a writing group? Do you sit at home by yourself and write in a dark room, staring only at your laptop screen? Everybody’s writing style is different, and we all write according to what is comfortable for us. But if you really are going to self-publish your book this year, maybe it’s time to get out of your comfort zone.

There are many different types of writing workshops, and they are often tailored for different genres, audiences and style or writing / writer, but they are all useful, and here’s why.

  1. If nothing else, a writer’s workshop gets you in the mood for writing and more often than not you will find yourself going home and writing solidly for several hours. It’s inspirational, and it will get you into a good habit.
  2. You’ll gain valuable ideas. No matter what you talk about in your workshop, whether you’re discussing how to write real life stories or taking inspiration from artwork, the ideas that you gain during the workshop will almost certainly drip into existing work that you have, or lead to something new.
  3. You’ll meet fellow writers and have people to test ideas out on, as well as other stories to listen to. Having people to talk to about your ideas before you put them to paper is invaluable, and the more people you network with during your workshop, the more buddies you’ll have who will be keen to read your book, review your book and help you with social media marketing once it’s published. Writers support their own, don’t you know, and what more could you ask for than a friend who will understand your trials and tribulations every step of the way.
  4. You might have the opportunity to gain professional feedback. Most people that lead writer’s workshops are published writers themselves, and not only will they give you feedback on anything that you produce during the workshop, but if you are lucky then they might also offer to give you some feedback on any continuation you have in the days following the workshop. An opinion from a successful, published writer is an opportunity too great to give up.
  5. You will learn something. Even if you think you’re a skilled and talented writer with no need for further training, you’ll get some, and you’ll be grateful for it. There is always more to learn, and no matter which workshop you choose to attend you will learn something that will help you going forward, and who can argue with that?

Let us know if you attend a writer’s workshop!

What are your writing resolutions?

New year, new you, right? Right? So this year, you’re going to finish your book, self-publish and watch as it climbs the best-seller list and you’re offered a publishing deal with one of the giants that you’ve only dreamed of.

So what are your writing resolutions, and have you kept to them so far?

Here are a couple of ideas, if you haven’t already thought of your own, besides finish your book, of course.

  1. Go where your books takes you. If you’re writing a book set in 15th century England, it’s not so easy, but if your book is set in Edinburgh, Stockholm or Panama, then go there. Wherever your location, you should know the location, and if your location is also back in time, then know the period and the location. Read about it, visit it, and know it. Then write about it.
  2. This leads nicely to my next point, read something amazing. Something that changed something. Something historical. From Shakespeare to the Bible or from Aristotle to War and Peace. All of these books are household names, but how many of them have you read from cover to cover? Educate yourself in the world of literary giants, and then become one of them.
  3. Learn English. Oh wait, you know it, right? Sure, you do, but have you ever actually studied it? Do you know the difference between the second and third conditional, the present and the past perfect? Could you tell a noun clause apart from an adverbial clause, or a participial phrase from a complementary phrase? If you know your own language like the back of your hand, you’ll find that there’s nothing you can’t write, no emotion, time period or action that you can’t convey, and your language will be so much better for it.
  4. While you’re at it, why not learn a new language as well? Learning about another language will help you to uncover secrets about your own, and it will also help you to analyse your writing and the way in which your brain works. And, if nothing else, it might provide for good writing material.
  5. Feel all the emotions. Allow yourself periods of doubt, worry, sadness, disbelief and surrender. But make sure you embrace the opposites, the happiness, the relief and the feeling of accomplishing something. You’re trying to convey the emotions of your characters, right? Well how can you do that if you don’t know what it feels like yourself? That’s right, you can’t. So feel it, and don’t be ashamed to feel it.

Good luck, and happy writing 2016!

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