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!

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.”

Have Amazon won the war of self-publishing?

This week we learned that Penguin Random House, the world’s largest traditional publisher, has officially withdrawn from the self-publishing business by selling off its self-publishing arm, Author Solutions. Some might say, and the Financial Times is one of them, that this move has effectively admitted defeat in the race to compete with Amazon’s self-publishing platform, especially while self-publishing is still in a great period of growth.

Financial analysts estimated that the sale price of Author Solutions, for which Penguin paid $116 million in 2012, is likely to be a fraction of that original sale price. So does this mean that Amazon has won? Or is the game simply shifting focus?

Well, one might wonder if it really is a game, or if there are any real players. Some might say that it’s simply business, and deals come and go, fail and succeed, whereas others might argue that there is no point in taking on Amazon, the giant company which is now one of the biggest in the world and has been helping authors, traditionally published and self-published alike, to get their books out into the public for decades.

However, the purchaser of Author Solutions doesn’t seem to think that this is the last we’ll hear from the indie publishing company which helped more than 200,000 authors to self-published more than 250,000 works up until now. A US private equity firm, Najafi Companies, which is based in Phoenix, is headed by Jahm Najafi who told the Wall Street Journal that he sees space for growth both domestically and internationally with the company.

“It’s consistent with our philosophy of trying to connect content owners with consumers,” said the head of the company which also tried to acquire the bookstore chain Borders when it went bankrupt in 2011. The chief executive of Author Solutions, Andrew Phillips, will stay in place and will remain in charge of other imprints including AuthorHouse, iUniverse and Trafford Publishing.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Penguin Random House told employees that the sale of the company “reaffirms our focus on consumer book publishing through our 250 imprints worldwide.”

So Penguin Random House, the group of two former traditional publishing houses which merged in 2013, is focussing on the traditional method of getting books onto the shelves and trying to reaffirm themselves as the publisher that you want to get their hands on your manuscript. Is it all a game? Have they simply given up?

Well, one might say that there are publishers, and there are self-publishers, and one business cannot be both. So perhaps this is for the best. Let us know what you think!

Self-published authors dominate end of the year book charts

As the year draws to a close, authors across the world have had their eyes peeled for the year’s bestseller’s list to see how far up the list their novel came. As we said in a blog recently, the bestseller’s list isn’t the be all and end all of novel writing, but one can’t lie and say that seeing one’s name on it doesn’t give a little thrill.

This week, Apple released their bestseller’s list of top iBooks sold online, revealing that self-published authors have dominated the free book chart, with critically acclaimed books such as Natasha Preston’s Silence reaching the number three slot, and The New Girl by Tracie Puckett achieving number four. Other self-published authors including Portia Moore (If I Break) and Terry Schott (The Game) also made the top ten.

And it’s not just the free book list which self-published authors, or at least those that started out that way, found their acclaim this year. One of the most famous self-published authors of recent years, now published by Arrow, E.L. James of course published another book in her Fifty Shades of Grey series, and although this time it wasn’t self-published, it certainly showed where self-published authors can find themselves as her latest instalment was number one on Apple iBooks’ UK bestseller list, and number two on Amazon’s 2015 bestseller list which includes both Kindle and physical book purchases.

We have spoken before about how the success of E.L. James has bred a succession of self-published authors hoping to achieve the same amount of fame that she accomplished, and it seems that her success is going to continue to spur on wannabe self-publishers. As she proved, anybody who has an idea can write a book, but it’s what you do with it that counts. Find a niche, write something that people want to read, and publish it, no matter what the critics think. It’s unlikely that a few years later you’ll be publishing under a traditional publishing house, and have four books in the top five of Amazon’s 2015 Bestseller List, but you never know.

And if you need some help in your writing, why don’t you take a break and read something to give you inspiration? Take a leaf out of the rest of the reading world’s book, and perhaps try one of the other top five books of the year, such as The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee or The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As we’ve said before, it’s not reading that’s difficult, it’s finding the time to do so. So make sure you make some!

Indie bookstores launch worldwide community book club

Have you ever joined a book club that had trouble getting off the ground? It was a little more club than it was book, and sometimes it was only two of you sitting around a bottle of wine talking about the book that you’d both only read half of?

Good book clubs are sometimes a little few a far between, and with the existence of eBooks, it’s harder to sit in a room with others and talk about a book, when you don’t have a physical copy in front of you. So to give readers an alternative to the Amazon Bestseller’s List and to help them get out of the eBook habit, a new National Book Club has been set to.

Developed by merchandiser Litographs and four independent bookstores: Harvard Book Store of Cambridge in Massachusetts; Green Apple Books in San Francisco; The Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle which if course is most likely now competing with Amazon’s very first physical bookstore which opened close to the University of Washington just a few weeks ago; and Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri.

The National Book Club, (which may seem as if it is only for readers within the USA, but really, how are they going to stop you?) enables these independent book store to hand curate four books per season for members to read, and when you buy a book from one of these stores, Litographs will send you a free gift. Members of the book club will then be invited to write their very own shelf-talker for the titles that they enjoyed which will be featured on the Litographs website, and maybe even on a real life bookshelf in one of the indie bookstores themselves.

In an effort to encourage readers to stick to the bookstores and keep off the internet, this book club is a fantastic way to reassure community, reading, conversation and buying local. And, if you buy from the Harvard Book Store, then the four titles will be sold at 20% off.

The selection of books for the first season of the National Book Club are:

  • Speak by Louisa Hall, recommended by the Harvard Book Store
  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, recommended by Green Apple Books
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, recommended by The Elliot Bay Book Company
  • Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon, recommended by Left Bank Books

So visit the Lithographs website, sign up, and get reading with your very own international community book club. Let us know how you get on!

Finding the time to write: it’s not impossible!

Writing the next great novel is everybody’s dream, and finding the time to do it is what is standing in everybody’s way. If I had the time, I expect I could have published more than a couple of novels by now, but unfortunately I just don’t have that kind of luxury.

So how can you fit writing your next great masterpiece around a full-time job, a family life and a social life on top of it all? Some of our best tips are below.

  1. Don’t get hung up on your word count. You can aim to write every day, every other day, or three times a week, but don’t set yourself word counts to aim for, because if you don’t meet it you will only get downhearted. Set yourself realistic expectations, and even if you only write for five minutes one day, then that is better than nothing.
  2. Make the most of your down time. Think about the points in your day when you are sitting around doing nothing. At the dentist’s office, on the bus, waiting for your kids to finish at swim practice? You could be writing! Get yourself a Bluetooth keyboard or a notebook and take it with you everywhere you go; that way your writing can be done before you even get home for dinner.
  3. Keep momentum going. If you have a great few days of writing, then keep it going, keep writing, and don’t stop. The minute you stop, the minute you take a break, that momentum slows down and so do you. Then it will be harder to get going again, harder to get yourself in the right frame of mind the produce fantastic prose.
  4. Turn off. Of course, you might need your computer to write, but you don’t need the internet, your phone, and your social media. Some of the best writing I have ever done was while disconnected from the internet and cell service for a weekend, and some of the best procrastinating I have ever done included both of those things.
  5. Finally, have faith in yourself. You can write, you are good at it, and you can finish. Don’t rush, don’t lose the quality, simply make sure that you stick to your own realistic objectives, and if you slip off, don’t be dispirited, simply pick yourself back up and get going again.

Want to improve your writing? Read more

Not everybody is a writer. Sure, everybody can write, but not everybody has the skills needed to produce truly moving, involving and marketable prose that can actually make them a living. Creative writing, while offered as a course at university, is not often described as a skill that can be taught, better it is a talent that can be developed and nurtured as we grow.

So how do we develop and nurture our creative writing talent without paying thousands of dollars to attend a university or college course? The answers is of course, read more.

Reading is great for the human brain. It is great for your entire being, your daily life, and your mental abilities. Reading does so many things for us that you might not even realise, some of which are not even directly related to making you a better writer.

For a start, reading makes us smarter. Pretty obvious, right? Reading can increase our knowledge and our intelligibility in almost every area. It keeps us sharp as we age, and it gives us better general knowledge, much of which can be useful for those weekly pub quizzes.

Reading also reduced stress and increases our feelings of calmness. It allows us to take a step back, relax and slow down. A book can distract you from the real world, transport you somewhere completely different, and forces you to be still, far away from distractions of the real world.

Reading can also cultivate our compassionate skills. Feelings of empathy for others, understanding of feelings of peers, and broadening of opinions and imagination, all of which can allow us to understand others better and thus create better relationships with those around us.

Of course, however, the main point of this article is to talk about how reading can make us better writers, and a lot of that starts with language. Reading increases our vocabulary and helps us to understand language better. It gives us ideas and revelations as to how we can use our own language in ways we might never have imagined.

Reading also helps us to cultivate our imagination and find inspiration for our own subjects. One perspective from another well respected author can certainly help us to develop our own perspective or our own idea about something similar, all the while showing us secrets of how to write for the real world.

Reading also enables us to improve our analytical thinking, our critical skills, and our evaluative skills. And the quicker we can analyse somebody else’s work, the easier we will find it to do the same thing with our own work.

All in all, reading is not just good for your writing, it is good for your life. Enjoy what you read, let knowledge, vocabulary, imagination and creativity seep into your pores, and allow yourself to relax all at the same time. What could be better?

I’m writing a book

How long would it take you to count how many people have uttered those four words to you over the last year? And how many fingers would you need to count how many of those people will actually succeed in writing a book? Could you name off the top of your head the amount of writers that you know who are already published, or close to getting there?

I am writing a book. And I know that it won’t be easy. The writing, as laborious as it seems sometimes, is actually the easy part. And when I say laborious, I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy it, of course I do, I’m a writer, I love to be creative, I love to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and let myself write, only stopping at the end of the day to go back and read what magic has materialised in front of me. I mean that writing a book is time-consuming, it can be frustrating, it can be infuriating, and it can be confusing. There are no many questions, so many problems, and so many re-writes until you are actually satisfied with your work that sometimes I wonder if it is worth it at all.

But the writing is not the hard part. Publishing; that will be the hard part. A friend of mine self-published a short story last year and every now and then she receives a bright and cheery email from Amazon informing her that she just made $2.37 on the sale of one of her books. And that is great. But I’m writing a book for an audience. I’m writing a book for people to read it en masse, not for one person to stumble across it once or twice a month and download a free sample before actually choosing to read my book.

So my choices are as follows: I can spend a year, or more, chasing traditional publishers and agents, hoping against hope that somebody will take a chance on me and decide to pay me for my book, or I can take my own chance on a self-publishing firm such as Mereo where I know that my book will get out there. As much as I believe in myself, I know that those feelings will not always be reciprocated throughout the traditional publishing world, and so recruiting the help of a company of experts will certainly help me to get my book to where I want it to go. On the shelves, on the e-readers, and most importantly, into people’s hands.