Thursday, October 31, 2013

Writer, Where Art Thou? Stop Making Yourself Scarce to Readers

My wife recently came home extremely flustered by her shopping experience at a new grocery store.  Apparently, there were several items on her list that she had a hard time locating because they weren't where she expected them to be - something like, "They had cheese near frozen foods instead of dairy products!"

Anyway, that got me to thinking about writing (I tend to relate everything to writing these days, on some level), and ways in which indie authors may be making it difficult for readers to find them. Of course, the usual suspects came to mind: genres/categories, keywords, marketing efforts, etc. However, going a little off the beaten path, I thought about another area in which authors might be limiting their reach: format.

Everyone knows, of course, that ebooks are the big enchilada when it comes to self-publishing. By way of example, the bulk of my own sales comes from ebooks. However, that doesn't mean that you should totally ignore other publishing formats, like print books.

From a business standpoint, doing a print version of your ebook makes a lot of sense: You already have the book written. You already have a cover (at least the front cover, but that's the hard part). You already have a blurb for the back. It costs essentially nothing to do print-on-demand through places like CreatSpace. Finally, you can reach readers that may prefer print to digital.  Bearing all that in mind, failing to do a print version might almost be seen as counterintuitive.

Personally, I always try to do a print version of my books, but that philosophy is rooted more in my background than anything else. I grew up poor, and still have a mindset that stresses knowing the value of a dollar. If they had been around when I was a kid, there's no way my parents could have afforded an e-reader; something like that just wouldn't have been in the budget. Thus, from my perspective - and this is not an opinion or judgment regarding authors who only do digital versions of their books - it just always seems presumptuous to assume that all potential readers can afford to buy a Kindle, Nook, etc. This way, even if they can't afford an e-reader, they can still have access to my book. 

The only bad news on this front is that print books generally cost more than ebooks. (Unlike ebooks, there's usually a minimum amount that you have to charge to cover the expenses associated with printing copies of the book.) Therefore, potential readers may resort to requesting such books from their local library, which is fine with me because it means that my book will end up on library bookshelves where even more readers can find my work. That said, I would again emphasize that the vast majority of sales are likely to come from ebooks, with any print copies just being icing on the cake. (In my case, I usually have double-digit print sales every month. It's not enough to pay the rent, but I could certainly buy a tank of gas with it.)

Another potential format - and one which I have neglected myself - is audiobooks. I keep hearing great things about it, but have only recently began looking into this format in earnest.  One of the first things I saw was that the market is huge; it's a billion-dollar industry (something I never would have imagined). Needless to say, my interest is piqued. 

As you might guess, the big player in this arena is Amazon (via its subsidiaries ACX and Audible), and going with them is practically a no-brainer. However, there are a couple of things still giving me pause at the moment. 

First of all, I don't have a firm handle of what the cost will be. That's not totally unexpected since this type of project will involve expertise in several areas (production, narration, and so on) and different people will charge different prices. From what I've seen, the price tag could run anywhere form a few hundred bucks (manageable) to a couple of thousand (ouch!). 

Of course, there is a workaround with respect to the cost. Instead of paying upfront, you have the option of splitting royalties with the producer 50-50. There's merit to the argument that it may be a good deal since the producer is also taking a gamble and should be rewarded for that risk, but to me that's a lot give up. Even lawyers working on contingency usually only get about a third of what they obtain for their clients. (Thinking of it terms of what I currently have published, I've sold over 10,000 ebooks since May of this year. Do I really need to say how I'd feel about having to give half of the money from those sales to someone else?)

In addition, just like with KDP Select for ebooks, you get a much higher royalty rate if you agree to ACX exclusive distribution: 50%-90% for exclusivity vs. 25%-70% for non-exclusivity. Moreover, you have to make your audiobook available for distribution via ACX for seven years. (Just for clarity, I called ACX about this and was told that - if you choose the exclusive option - you can switch to non-exclusive after one year, but you can only make the change once.)

Basically, while audiobooks do sound great and appear to be a growing market, I don't know enough yet about the industry to decide where to apply my efforts.  I do know, however, that audiobooks are defintiely on my agenda; it's just a matter of when.  

In retrospect, I believe that writers should take into consideration any consumers that they might ordinarily miss.  That being the case, I think authors should adopt a no-reader-left-behind approach when it comes to publishing formats.  That means books in digital, print and audio form.  And if the technology advances to where you can get books geared towards other senses - like taste and smell - put your book in those formats, too. (Laugh now; just remember that you read it here first...) In the end, you'll probably make more money, and hopefully attract more fans.

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