Category Archives: self publishing

The Createspace Conundrum

This week I’ve had my head down concentrating on something I would have liked to have done months ago, but until now realistic opportunities just haven’t been there.  We’re about to launch Pegasus Falling in the USA using CreateSpace, a print on demand service from Amazon. If all goes well, by the end of this month, it should be listed as In Stock rather than “Out of Print – Limited Availability” as it is currently on amazon.com, which is all very exciting. What’s more, signing up to CreateSpace has some other very important benefits which will help things on this side of the Atlantic too.

Amazon represents a bit of a conundrum for the small publisher. You can’t sell large amounts of books without being available on the Amazon websites, but their terms and conditions make for eye-watering reading when it actually comes to having your book in stock.
Now, this post is far from an Amazon bash. Far from it, I think they are providing some very important services which are invaluable to self-publishers. In fact, they’re offering services and products which no-one else has had the gumption to offer so far, and they do make selling ebooks very easy indeed (some might say too easy) and have pretty much revolutionised the industry. There is a great deal we self-pubbers have to be grateful for on the whole. However, until now I’ve felt that it is a very different story when it comes to selling physical copies with them.
I’ve been struggling to work out what the best course of action is for the paperback version of Pegasus Falling for months. Initially, I decided to take the same direction I did with the hardback of The Cypress Branches– print a short run for distribution to different outlets and print more runs as and when necessary. When we printed the hardback in 2009, I’d researched the options on the market – everything from Print on Demand to the various complete self-publishing printing and marketing products available. I decided to take the middle-road option and print a short run myself. I found a great partner in Biddles – they’re UK based and offered a very competitive price for an excellent product. They were also rather nice to work with. It made perfect sense to use them again for Pegasus Falling.
To make this whole venture work, we had to make sure we could set a reasonable retail price and thankfully, the printing and other costs involved meant that we could do just that. We could supply books to retailers for the going rate of 40-50% discount and still manage to scrape in a small profit to plough into the next book. The problem comes when you consider Amazon who insist that you sign up to their Advantage programme in order to ensure that your book retains an “In Stock” status on their websites. Basically, you sign up and their system orders books from you as and when needed. It all sounds great until you consider the fact that they insist on a 60% trade rate and that vendors must swallow shipping costs as well. That must be fine for vendors dealing in the hundreds or thousands of copies at a time, but so far Amazon have ordered only a handful of books from us, one copy at a time. This has meant that with every copy we have supplied Amazon, we have lost in the region of £2-2.50. Coupled with the fact that Pegasus Falling is currently listed as out of stock (something the Advantage programme is supposed to avoid), clearly, there is no advantage for us as a small publisher. 
Just as I was about to pull my hair out, along came CreateSpace. I’d already heard about the Print On Demand service from Amazon, and had had a look into it several months ago, but I’d had to dismiss it because it didn’t offer a solution for the UK market – and as we’re based in the UK, and the books are based around British characters, the UK will be our biggest market, certainly to begin with.
However, late last month, Amazon announced that CreateSpace was going to be available for distribution to Amazon’s UK & European markets. I found this out quite by chance from Catherine Ryan Howard’s rather useful (and entertaining) blog, so thank you Catherine.
So, a second look at CreateSpace revealed that it might actually fulfil many desires which had so far remained unfulfilled, and hopefully without too many problems. Not only does it offer the opportunity to actually make rather than lose money by selling print books in the UK, but also makes the book available in the potentially lucrative markets in Europe and the US. And without the need to price the book ridiculously high in order to not lose out.
After I had emailed CreateSpace and received a reply (within 24 hours – something to be congratulated) which assuaged a couple of concerns (I’ll blog more about the nitty gritty at a later date), I spent the week tweaking the print-ready files in order to make them compatible with their systems (something else I’ll go into more detail with later), and today I ordered the proof copy which is about to be printed and shipped over for approval. It’s due with us on the 14th and all being well, we’ll have it up and available to buy in print in the US and (when the copies Amazon hold in stock at the moment are sold) in the UK and Europe shortly after. At least that’s the plan…we’ll see how things go!
As a lover of books in all shapes and sizes, it has always been a high priority for me to have the book available in print as well as e-ink, but somehow it always felt a bit like a novelty aside rather than a serious side to the project, the print books being subsidised by the ebook sales. Now, all being well, it feels much more like an integral part of the business and a wider audience will be able to enjoy the book, which has always been the ultimate goal. With many US based bloggers lined up to review Pegasus Falling in the coming weeks and months, it’s fantastic that it will be easily available in whatever format readers prefer when the reviews come out.
I’ll blog again when the proof arrives and when the book goes live. It’ll be interesting to see how smoothly the transition from Advantage to CreateSpace goes. 
Happy reading!
Mike
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Radio days

I’m reaching the end of what has been a rather odd week.

Last week, we were contemplating putting the heating on overnight because it was so cold in the flat. This week, we’re basking in glorious early summer sunshine.

Last week, I was contemplating writing an email to Nick Coffer, presenter of the afternoon show on BBC Three Counties Radio with a press release about Pegasus Falling. This week, I’m just about getting over the trauma of appearing on the show.

The speed at which it all happened took me completely by surprise. The email was sent on Friday, a reply received on Saturday, appearance arranged on Monday and I was on the air on Wednesday. The downside of all this was that Nick didn’t have the chance to read the book before the item. The upside was that I only had a couple of days to panic.

Now, you’d think, me being a seasoned media professional, I’d be relaxed with the idea of being placed in front of the mic myself. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case. I’m much happier being behind the camera, and well away from the microphone, so on the morning of the show I have to admit I got into a bit of a panic. I was trying to put some notes together to make sure I had all the information I needed in my head beforehand, but I found that the more I worked on the notes the more nervous I became. So I stopped, printed out what I had and hoped I hadn’t forgotten anything – or at least had enough in my head not to be tripped up by any left-field questions I might be asked. On the train up to the studio, I got the notes out and started reading them. Again, the nerves started to jangle, so they were promptly put to one side again.

I’d managed to calm down a little when I arrived at the studio in Luton, about 10 minutes early. I had been surprised when Nick asked me to be there just 10 minutes before I was due in the studio. Coming from a television background, I’m used to there being a much longer lead in to an appearance. With no visual aspect to worry about in radio, there was no need for the make-up and wardrobe checks, the fitting of radio-mics, camera rehearsals, or the like that I’m used to. Instead, I was beckoned into the reception area and simply asked to wait.

This would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the fact that the station’s output was being piped over the loud speaker. When I arrived, Nick was talking to a doctor who was helping callers with their health problems. The nerves, which had been dying down, sprang to life again when Nick trailed what was coming next…me!

I had been told that I would be in the studio after the 3 o’clock news and would be talking to Nick for about half and hour. At 3, the news came on, and finished, and I was still sat in reception wondering if anyone actually knew I was there. Nick’s voice appeared again and he intro’d what was coming next again…me. But there I was, still outside in reception. When a song came on, suddenly the door burst open and in came Katherine, Nick’s producer. She beckoned me in, apologising for taking so long to retrieve me. It turned out the guest before me had broken her leg (weeks ago, not in the studio) and needed help leaving the studio.

The briefest of formalities, and there I was, sat in front of a green microphone and Nick with his bank of equipment. We had barely said hello when the music died down and Nick introduced me and the conversation started flowing.

The nerves were certainly jangling, and I was suddenly aware of my very dry throat. Katherine walked in with a glass of water, but I was unable to take a much needed draught, as I was the one doing most of the talking. Despite the lack of preparation on both sides, Nick knew just enough to get the story out of me and somehow I managed to make sense (I think).

Listening back, you can hear the nerves in my voice, certainly in the first half of the item. Thankfully, as the time went on, those nerves abated slightly and the shakiness left my voice. Nick has a clever way that good presenters do of making a nervous contributor feel at ease. The questions flowed and he gave the appropriate nods and gestures to let me know that what I was saying was interesting. All that being said, I’ve never been happier to hear the opening chords of Wet Wet Wet’s Goodnight Girl, a song I can’t stand, but it did give me an opportunity to finally whet my whistle from that glass of water which had been taunting me for the last 10 minutes.

At the end of the first half of the interview, we’d covered the very emotional story of William and his battle with Alzheimer’s. As Marti Pellow got stuck in, Nick said, “Lovely”. Then immediately apologised – it wasn’t the right word to use. It was lovely in a “good radio” sense, but the story itself wasn’t “lovely”. I told him not to worry, I knew exactly what he meant and certainly wasn’t going to take offence. It served to highlight just how difficult it is to talk about Alzheimer’s, and its leading role in the story of William and the book.

The only embarrassing moment in the whole broadcast came after Nick had cut off Marti in his prime. During the song he had briefed me about what he was going to ask in part 2 and I was deep in thought when he turned to me, mid-spiel and asked me a question. I had been so caught up in my thoughts that all I heard was “1952” and a question. I hadn’t actually heard what he’d asked at all! Hence my rather vague reply to a very easy question! Luckily, the rest of the interview went swimmingly.

In truth, the entire 25 minutes or so I was in the studio flew past, as I knew it would. A quick goodbye from Nick and Katherine before they whisked their next guest in to the hot seat and I was headed out into the glaring afternoon sun again, barely remembering a thing about what had just happened.

As I left, though, Nick asked me to let them know when It Never Was You is released. I’ll definitely be keeping in touch.

So, all in all, a successful radio debut. Hopefully it won’t be my last appearance. And hopefully my nerves won’t be as shredded next time!

If you missed it, or would like to listen to the show again, you can listen online by following this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rjdks I appear 2 hours in to the show. It’s available until next Tuesday (29th May) before it is consigned to the iPlayer recycle bin. Enjoy!

Ebooks vs. Tree books

This post was originally published on acuteanglebooks.co.uk on 9th March 2012

The debate is well and truly raging – what’s better? Digital ink and the handheld device? Or a good old fashioned paperback?

When we published The Cypress Branches back in 2009, digital books were still in their infancy and I never really gave the idea of releasing a digital version any thought. But now, E-books and digital publishing is definitely a force to be reckoned with and we simply can’t ignore them.

The whole E-reader revolution has somewhat taken me by surprise. In only three years, they’ve gone from a relative novelty to a must-have accessory. According to research, astonishingly, 1 in 40 adults in the UK received an e-reader for Christmas last year – that’s over a million E-readers. And just as interesting is the fact that they appear to be more popular with the over 55s than they do with younger age groups. It therefore makes perfect sense to make Pegasus Falling available in digital format and that’s exactly what I’m working on at the moment. In fact, I’m thinking that digital copies will far out-sell the print version.

The quality of the reading experience aside, I believe the key to digital publishing’s success is the cost. Amazon reported to be selling its devices at below production cost, no doubt in an effort to get them into as many homes as possible and therefore sell more E-books. They are, in retail terms, a loss-leader. And the books themselves tend to be cheaper – best-sellers from established names aside, most commercial E-books tend to be in the region of £1-2. That’s no doubt a big sell, and it has made the traditional publishing industry sit up and think.

This time around, I’ve always had the digital version of the book firmly planted in the back of my mind as I’ve prepared Pegasus Falling for print. And a lot of people have asked me why I’ve even bothered printing hard copies when it would be easy enough (and a lot cheaper) to just release it online.

Personally, I still prefer paper to plastic, and I know a lot of people out there feel the same. I also think that there is still a stigma attached to “digital books”. There are millions of books which are published exclusively online every year. Pegasus Falling could have been one of their number, fighting for recognition in a very large and crowded field. But I believe there is still a desire for people to own the actual book and publishing it in physical form as well as online lends a book a certain legitimacy. It also gives people a choice – it’s there if they want to buy it, in which ever form they wish.

This morning, Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff held an interesting debate on this very issue, and thankfully, it reassured me that we’re on the right track in terms of making the books available in both physical and digital forms. Matthew Wright’s guest, children’s author Michael Rosen, appears to be a fan of E-readers, as do the callers and audience members asked – but there were also murmurings of that desire to hold and interact with a paper book.

One question which always pops up is whether E-books will kill off the printed book altogether. I’m with Rosen on this one – I doubt it. There’s no reason why the success of one means the end of the other and I think they can both live alongside each other. There will always be a wish to own books and after all, doesn’t the saying go, “a home without books is a body without soul”?