A few Home Truths!

Today I’m blogging on the Authors Electric site about KEEPING IT CLEAN in Word.  ePublishing is like anything else, getting into it can be a steep learning curve and a lot of people seem to enter the fray without really working out what it’s all about and how to go about it.  They learn by bitter experience.

But here on my own site I’m freer to say things that are my personal opinion without fear of implicating others in my views. So this is the place for that opinion – and with the opinion I’ll try to give a few helpful tips and guiders to make the journey of epublishing easier for all.  But I don’t expect or require people to agree with my opinion. I’m offering you my personal experience and FOOD FOR THOUGHT. Take it or leave it.  Here goes:

My main advice is to make sure you do your research into ebook publishing in  advance. Yes it can be easy as pie to stick a word doc (though not for everyone) up on Amazon or Kobo or wherever and then wonder why you aren’t selling. But there is so much more to it than that. As an indie writer (who becomes an indie publisher when you PUBLISH) you need to understand that while you may just be ‘playing around’ or ‘having a go’ or ‘fulfilling a lifetime dream’ or whatever, once you engage you are part of an industry, subject to the marketplace and all sorts of things that normally you wouldn’t consider.  It’s a deep, deep well and you need to know where you are swimming. And how and why.

There are loads of other things to consider when you’re starting out. If you don’t have professional experience (and sometimes if you do) in publishing or broadcasting, you need to wake up and learn a lot about the business before you commit yourself to things. Or you will inevitably be confused and disappointed.

Here are some of the things I come across time and time again which make me smile/wince/despairing of humankind!

Amazon Kindle (Direct and Select)  – read the small print. The contract you enter into with Amazon is IMPORTANT and you do need to get your head round it.  If you put your ebook on Select for 3 months you are tied NOT TO SELL IT OR GIVE IT AWAY ANYWHERE ELSE.  With Direct there are price matching issues. Like it or not Amazon IS the main outlet for ebooks in the UK at the moment and if you piss them off – beware!

Kobo –  remember Kobo is NOT Amazon – at the moment anyway. They do not and may not want to have the same sort of system as Amazon (which does favour indie authors). They are selling books. They do NOT HAVE to make it easy for the indie to get their book noticed. We do not have a RIGHT for them to do this. You engage with THEIR system.  On their terms.

And yes, for me there’s a much better system which would be a sort of compilation of Amazon and Kobo but it’s one that suits ME as an Indie and I’m not expecting them to adopt it any time soon. I appreciate (as I fear many indie authors don’t) that I am neither a) at the centre of the universe for Amazon/Kobo (or indeed readers) or b) that important as a writer that the whole world should revolve round the way I want it done.  Publishing is a HUGE business. ONLINE SELLING is a HUGE business. Online selling of ebooks and books is a GARGANTUAN business. And we, my friends are plankton in the bottom of a very large ocean.  Get used to it.  I can think of many ways to make Kobo better for me. I don’t sell anything off there at the moment because I can’t achieve visibility. Now either they will sort this or I will move elsewhere. But I’m accepting of the fact that they are doing what they can to build THEIR business and I need to be patient to see whether its a business model that will help me in any way.

Smashwords – The meatgrinder. Well, if you don’t like the idea don’t use it. I choose not to at the moment. But that’s the way that business runs so there’s no point complaining about it is there? They do give comprehensive instructions on how to prepare for their system AND they do the conversion for free so IF you need someone else to do the conversion for you then that’s good – BUT at the end of the day remember they are a business and they need you to supply in the format which suits them. That’s the relationship. I hear too many people complaining that the COMPANIES don’t do things the way the INDIVIDUAL wants.  Yes, WE are Indies but THEY are businesses.  We are able to do business with them but we have to do it on their terms.  If we want to be Indie beyond that we have to find out OWN platforms and ways of doing it and – yes – that would be very difficult.

So really – you have to choose who you are going to play with and then PLAY NICE.  Remember, while you are a ‘customer’ in one sense you are also a business partner.  Jumping up and down with angry customer hat on is a bit lame isn’t it?  Learn the skills to work together as business equals might be a better option.

I’m not for a minute saying that Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and the like don’t make mistakes but remember SO DO YOU! And WE (I’ll include myself in the mistake makers) have very few issues to deal with. They have millions.  We are NOT their only customer/business partner etc and as long as they treat you with respect (if you deserve it) and try to resolve the problem I’d suggest a more tolerant attitude to the business partnership!

Amazon Tax – again this needs careful consideration. It isn’t actually that hard to get the required TAX CODE which means you DON’T have to pay tax in America on American royalties (but you DO need to read the documentation carefully because, guess what, the IRS is not geared up to help every little individual case.) We may think of ourselves as unique individuals (and indeed we are) but when you enter the world of tax you ARE just a number and a case and no one can be bothered explaining to you what you need to do because you’ve misread the guidelines. I have heard so many horror stories of people not a) understanding what the US tax thing is  – read the Amazon contract! – b) not knowing how to go about it (there are 3 ways and you do need to read CAREFULLY and c) not filling out the form correctly (I didn’t fill the form out just so first time and it got kicked back. But it was MY fault. No point bitching to IRS when the mistake is yours. Just bite the bullet and DO IT RIGHT.  In simple terms you have to choose between an ITIN and an EIN (and YOU need to understand what these are) and then choose your way of dealing with them. Phone, in person at an embassy or through the post.  I have many issues with having to get a US tax number (mostly to do with Amazon avoiding tax in my own country) but I don’t have issues with the fact that if I DO have to engage with them I have to PLAY BY THEIR RULES, filling out the forms in a manner and style of their choosing. That’s the game. Play or don’t play.

POD. Another thing I’ve come across recently which has made me ‘smile’ wryly is the shock with which new POD’ers have discovered that when you are selling a physical book to a physical (or even online) bookstore they take 40%.  Yes folks, they do.  That’s standard publishing practice. That’s why ebooks are SO GOOD for us.  I do well remember the day in 2003 when I took my first ‘indie’ published book into the local bookstore to see if they would stock it and they hit me with the 40% discount. I turned around and walked out. It was my choice. I said I wouldn’t sell a book on those terms. No one else cared. It meant more work for me trying to sell through other outlets (on sale or return) and direct.  I didn’t like it and I didn’t PLAY but sadly, them’s the rules. And it priced me out of the market.  Does anyone else CARE about that? No of course they don’t. We should all remember there are MANY MANY books (e and real) out there in the market place and WE as individuals are NOTHING SPECIAL (except to ourselves and our close friends)  That is why so many of the ‘models’ for indie publishing are pushing the ‘true fans’ model.  But it’s a limited one.   If you only sell to your own close circle (however big it is) it’s limited. The world is VAST and selling to people YOU DON’T KNOW is the one way to get any decent returns on what you sell.  And if you want to do that -THEN you enter the world of professional publishing and you have to LEARN and PLAY BY the rules of the business world and marketplace you are in.

We are in a wild west land grab situation at the moment and everyone is trying new ways to reinvent publishing or to subvert it or find their own way to adapt it to suit them. That’s great. But just remember as indies we are NOTHING to the business world and if we want to have a voice and a place at the table (rather than just be the crumbs under it) we need to become professional and work together in a collaborative, co-operative way rather than bitch and whine about why it doesn’t work to our own personal advantage.  And do, at all times be aware that there are many many snake oil salesmen out there.  There are review sites and organisations and all kinds of ways to DO this and you would be well advised to work out what’s BEHIND the great claims that everyone makes. You need to have a business head on to engage with this. The creative head is for the writing.  The business head is for the publishing.  At least if you want to be a professional in any sense.  And is not all the rest vanity?


About callyphillips

6 Responses to A few Home Truths!

  1. Well said Cally. No point in griping, we just have to deal with it!

    • Aye, I think I was in a ‘man up’ frame of mind. Or should that be ‘woman up’? I know it throws me open to the world of people going on and on again about the definitions of professionalism and all that kind of talk (useful in its place but becoming a bit weariesome) It’s a big world. We’re all part of it and NOT as important a part as we sometimes think. There are many much more important things in the world! Ah ken ah’m juist a naebudy but ah’m gonnae be the best damned naebudy ah cun be!

  2. Jo Carroll says:

    Yes, yes, yes – I hope those new to the indie world read this, Cally – if indie writing is to flourish then everyone has to work to make their writing and its presentation as professional as possible.

    • Aye, I wasn’t sure it would make happy reading, and I hope it doesn’t sound negative – it’s just that so much time is wasted with folk going round in circles complaining how it isn’t fair when we just need to get on with it!

  3. I don’t often read blogs about writing but this is one that every indie writer should read. It’s such a new world, no one really knows how to make the best of it but for it to work writers must do their best and their bit to make it work. One thing is certain – it’s a very big world and each indie book is a mere drop on a vast ocean. And we have to be wary of people trying to ‘buck the system’.

  4. Excellent post, Cally, and all of it needing to be said and taken note of. Only this morning, I was reading comments on a Facebook thread all about what ‘Amazon must do for Indies.’ Er… no. we are microscopic cogs in a gigantic wheel. We have to be professional, we have to collaborate but we also have to take responsibility for familiarizing ourselves with the rules – and we have to play the game according to those rules or perish. Bit like Jumanji, really!

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