Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guest Blogger James Swain

Joe sez: James Swain is an accomplished magician, gambler, and the bestselling author of fourteen thriller novels. I talked to him at a conference in Florida several months ago. He had a few questions about ebooks, and I was more than happy to answer them. As with all authors who ask (and even those that don't ask) I iterated that the keys to Kindle success are:

1. A good book with good formatting.

2. Good covers.

3. Good product descriptions.

4. A low price

Recently, he self-published four new ebooks on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and they're doing exceedingly well. His covers were done by my cover artist, Carl Graves at Extended Imagery. He had them professionally formatted by my formatter, Rob Siders. And he priced them to sell, at $2.99.

I asked Jim to answer a few questions about ebooks, and he kindly responded.

Joe: What prompted your move to self-publish your ebooks on Kindle?

Jim: It was actual a series of events that led me to this decision. My publisher, Random House, had two books which they'd paid me to write in the Tony Valentine series that were in their catalog to be published. RH decided to release two other novels I'd written instead, and after two years of nothing happening, those books got kicked back to me. I'd been thinking about self-publishing them, and actually had orders for 5,000 of each title. Then I looked at the cost and flipped. It was going to run me over $50,000 to do this! The eBook route seemed much less expensive the more I looked at it. I had two other novels which my agent was shopping (The Program & The Man Who Cheated Death) which I decided to release as eBooks as well.

Joe: Have you been pleased with your results so far?

Jim: Ecstatic! I've sold over 1,400 books and also got renewed interest in a TV series that's in development in Hollywood for the Valentine series. I also enjoyed the process of self-publishing digitally, which is radically different than self-publishing in print. Back in the 1990s, I self-published two hardcover books on magic. Each book took 18 months to complete from start to finish. This process took 10 weeks from start to finish. Talk about a difference.

Joe: How easy was it to get your ebooks published? Did you get some help?

Jim: I didn't find it easy at all. If I hadn't heard you speak at the Mysteries to Die For conference in Sarasota, I don't think I would have done this. Your talk answered a lot of nagging questions, and empowered me to try this. Rob Siders, the gentleman who formatted my books, also helped a great deal.

Joe: Would you consider ever writing a novel specifically for Kindle?

Jim: Absolutely. I love to write stories, and have been doing so since I was a kid. Writing is my passion, and I can certainly see myself writing a book for Kindle. I think eBooks are the greatest thing since sliced bread for people who love to read, and there's no reason not to write something just for this audience.

Joe: Are you going to list your ebooks on Smashwords (and through them, on Apple, Sony, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Borders, etc.)?

Jim: My eBooks were listed with Smashwords, but I was forced to take them down. Let me explain why. I got complaints from readers who didn't like the way Smashwords formatted my books, which was upsetting to me. I didn't want a product in the marketplace that didn't look professional, and readers were telling me that the books on Smashwords weren't up to snuff.

The second reason was B&N. At the time my books were released, Smashwords was the only way to get onto B&N's site. As you know, Smashwords doesn't put every author on B&N, just those they want to. While I was waiting for them to make up their mind, B&N launched their own platform called Pubit, which allows authors to list books on their site. I put my books on Pubit, and they went live in two days. Then a strange thing happened. Smashwords put their versions of my books on B&N's site, and undercut my price by 10%. I had no choice but to end my relationship with Smashwords.

Since then, I've listed my books on the iBookstore through Lulu, and am listing my books on Kobo and Borders as well, which I think covers all the bases.

I hope people won't take this comments as a slam of Smashwords. I think it's a good site that offers a good service, and Mark Coker, the founder, is a brilliant guy. It just didn't work for me.

(Joe sez: Just an FYI, the issues Smashwords have been having are the results of the retailers they're dealing with, not because of any problems on the Smashwords site. B&N, Sony, and Kobo take a long time to implement SW ebooks into their catalogs, and then they discount those ebooks. Smashwords is currently working to stop the discounting, and to make uploading books and reporting sales more timely, which is why I've stuck with them.)

Joe: Any predictions about the future of publishing?

Jim: I have been making a living from the publishing business my entire adult life, and could go on about this topic for days. Here's the Reader's Digest version: Those who embrace ebooks and the new technology will do just fine. Those who don't, won't.

Joe: I've been preaching about ebooks for over a year now. Have you been evangelizing this to your peers as well?

Jim: Yes, I have. The mainstream media has done a wonderful job of demonizing ebooks, and blaming them for publishing's current dire straits. As a result, many writers are avoiding the topic like the plague. They need to wake up, and look at the reality of what's happening. The publishing industry's downward spiral began in the summer of 2008, and had nothing to do with eBooks, and everything to do with a financial crisis that was out of control. Ebooks are the best thing that's happened to the business since the popularization of the paperback. They will eventually be the industry's salvation.

Joe: Thanks, Jim, for stopping by. I love it when "name" authors jump on this bandwagon, because it echoes what I've been saying all along: this is the future.

I'm not sure ebooks will be the industry's salvation, as much as they'll be authors' salvation. Making 70% royalties is a Very Big Deal, especially for pros who have accepted 8% for years.

But just as important is the time issue. After Jim and I spoke in Florida, he had four novels up on Amazon, fully formatted and with killer covers, within two months. There are no Big 6 publishers that could have accomplished that. Nor would any Big 6 publisher release four novels by the same author at the same time, worrying they would cannibalize each other's sales.

Which brings me to a point I often harp about. In an ebook world, there is no shelf life for books. Ebooks are forever. Which means that every day your ebook isn't live on Amazon is a day you aren't getting paid.

There is no longer any need to stagger book releases, or subscribe to the "one book a year" ethic that publishers seem to love. If you've got something ready to go, then sooner is better.

It's also worth noting, if you're a professional author with a backlist, that new Kindle books give your backlist a boost in sales. Previously this year, I'd been selling about 200 ebooks a day. Since November 1st I've been selling 350 self-pubbed ebooks a day. This is due to the launches of Shaken and Draculas in October.

This doesn't count the sales of Shaken, which I'm not allowed to specifically disclose because AmazonEncore likes to keep their numbers close to their chest. But I can say, if I include my backlist Jack Daniels ebooks with my self-pubbed ebooks, I was selling over 1000 ebooks a day not including Shaken.

That's a lot of ebooks.

Elsewhere on the interwebs, a lot of folks have been making predictions about how big this ebook market is going to get. While my belief that ebooks will replace print as the dominant format is based on precedent for other media technologies, my own sales, and my experience with the publishing world, it is still just a guess on my part. But ebook sales will increase quite a bit this holiday season. And they'll increase even more next year, now that color is possible with E Ink.

And print? It's dying. Check the latest stats on Publisher's Weekly. In a nutshell: ebooks up 151%, hardcovers down 40%. The same thing is happening with audiobooks. Downloads up 74%, CD sales down 40%.

This is the future. Get in on it as soon as you can.