Saturday, 31 December 2011

Guest blog: Cally Phillips

I am pleased to introduce our guest blogger this week, playwright and novelist Cally Phillips. She has come up with a thought-provoking post. Hope you enjoy it.


Was this the Christmas of the ereader? Did you get a Kindle, Kobo or iPad?  Or a swishy new smart phone dripping with ‘apps’. Even if you didn’t, you can’t have avoided the hype about ebooks which is currently ‘trending’ everywhere. In this blog I want to share some personal thoughts and experiences about the novel world of ebooks. 

Advice: look both ways before embarking on your journey.
At this time of year Janus dictates that one looks both forwards and back, at the year that’s been and the one to come. This is quite appropriate as my main publishing venture in 2011/2012 is ebooks.  I set up HoAmPresst Publishing in 2010 and the ‘mission’ now is to publish my work both as limited edition paperbacks and ebooks. 

As with any emerging technology, ebook production imposes a steep learning curve on the write/publisher.  There is an easy way of course and then there are the not so easy ways. And then there is a consideration of what one means by ‘easy.’  If you read on, you will probably assume I picked the not so easy way, and possibly wonder why. The simple reason is because I am somewhat suspicious of the ‘primrose path’ options of Amazon Direct Publishing or Smashwords (the Coke and Pepsi of this particular branded market). While anyone with a few hours and some determination and the kind of basic understanding of computers you need to write a book these days, can get their work up on Amazon/Smashwords, the ‘royalties deals’ contain some small print that I don’t particularly like or wish to buy into. (Namely having to get involved with the US tax system).

Brands and the marketplace
We live in a world of brands. We are being sold to constantly, even when we are not aware. (This is an underlying theme of my novel Brand Loyalty) There are many more markets than Amazon. This is something we in the UK who are in Kindle frenzy mode (if you didn’t get one for Xmas you’re probably going to look for one in the January sales, right) are oblivious to. But the rest of the world doesn’t just do Kindle. There are many more ereaders available. (I got a Kobo because they were a Canadian firm, selling through W.H. Smith, only to find they got bought out by a Japanese firm a week later, somewhat crushing my politically inspired purchase statement) and there are many more places than Amazon to buy/download your ebooks from. Amazon isn’t even the cheapest. As I write this, it’s possible to get my books cheaper from Kobo than Amazon. Pricing is but one of the many minefields I have yet to fully negotiate in this dark art of ebook publication.

My point however is that, even if you don’t have scruples about Amazon’s business ‘model’, if you want to ‘reach’ as wide an audience as possible, it pays to look beyond the Kindle store.  Globally Amazon does not hold that big a market share (despite what they’d have us believe!!) and believe me, ebook publishing is a global market place.

More about economics
But enough about the production and publications. Your only interest in ebooks may be as a consumer. The good news is that for the consumer ebooks are easy. (Though perhaps once again the ‘primrose path’ caution should apply.)  Of course you can download free and very cheap ebooks.  I’ve done it myself. Most of them are poor quality, or out of copyright, or in my humble opinion, if they are good – ripping off the author.  If you explore the ebook market place you’ll find that the mainstream publishers still charge ‘sensible’ prices unless they are promoting a loss leader, and it is the small/independent/self publishers who are selling at considerably less than ‘market value.’ I simply don’t believe that 99p is a credible price for the creative work that goes into a novel. It’s not that I want to earn mega-bucks, but I find it insulting to my creativity to suggest that it is only worth 99p. I’d rather give books away free. I understand that some writers are taking a calculated risk in that they hope to sell so many more books because of the price that they will end up with more income. I don’t happen to believe that this is true. I don’t think it will happen to any/many others apart from  established, well connected or well known authors (of which I am not one) and I see the near giveaway pricing of 99p as reflective of something more sinister. But, I don’t want to bore you with economics. Suffice it to say, there’s more to all this than meets the eye and I’m happy to discuss it at length in any appropriate forum.

How to maintain an ‘alternative’ perspective.
When I embarked on the venture there appeared to be two standard ‘routes’ into the market place. Firstly you can ‘self-publish’ directly via Amazon or Smashwords (we’ve already seen why I’m not keen on that route) or you can pay a company to convert (ie produce) and distribute for you (they also seem to want to be publisher). Of course they charge you. Since ebooks need to go out in a number of different formats you’ll find that you are charged multiple conversion costs which means that £70 can easily turn into £300.  I was simply not prepared to pay someone to do things I was sure I could do myself. I reasoned that I could do it all apart from the distribution.   Eventually I found a company who would distribute for me. and now have two ebooks available for downloading from a range of e-retailers. (see links below). The difficulties to date appear to be because distribution only deals are certainly not standard procedure at present so I feel happy that in subverting the way things ‘should’ be done, I may be able to change attitudes as to how things ‘could’ be done in the future.

Learning by experience
Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been all an easy ride for me, but my experimenting in an alternative way of distributing ebooks is in keeping with my alternative views on publishing in general so I’m reasonably happy.  I’ve parted with no cash nor have I got to deal with the IRS. And people can now buy my ebooks from Amazon as Kindle or other epub formats from other sources at what I consider to be a reasonable price. In paperback versions I’m cutting my throat to sell at £7.99. Jury’s out on exactly what I’ll get from each ebook, I suspect the sums will always be too complex for me to work out.  Ebooks have the added benefit of course that you can download at the click of a button, conferring instant gratification and saving precious resources.

What about creativity?
Now of course, a guest blog is bound to contain a plug isn’t it? So let me return to the theme of looking forward and back. The two ebooks I have currently ‘out there’ are The Threads of Time which looks into the past and Brand Loyalty which looks into the future.

Threads of Time from Amazon
and Kobo

Brand Loyalty from Amazon
and Kobo

Helpful hints to prospective buyers
As I write the best prices for both are £3.83 on Kindle at Amazon or £3.35 from Kobo.  Of course you can KEEP IT REAL and buy paperback copies directly from my own ‘alternative’ publishing outfit  where you can also find out more about the novels, helping you to make an informed decision before you (hopefully) purchase.  Also I note that via Amazon you can ‘look inside’ the ebook (sample) and on Kobo you can choose to purchase as a gift for a friend! 

And Finally: Happy New Year to you all.
In 2012 I hope to finish a trilogy which will be published in both limited edition paperback and as ebooks, and publish other ‘anniversary’ editions of previous works. For me it’s more about process than product and my motto remains: the destination is in the journey.

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