The new year is now two weeks old. Time enough to have recovered from any New Year’s Eve excess, and it’s time to have broken all those crazy New Year’s resolutions we ritually make and break each January.
Now let’s think about the rest of the year, starting with this five part question.
Are you a one-format, one-retailer, one-market, one-language, one-SMP ebook author?
Presumably the answer is no to at least several of those, or you wouldn’t be here reading this in the first place.
But there are degrees of “no”. And as we kick off 2016 we all need to be asking ourselves those questions because the answers will define our level of success or struggle over the next five years.
Put simply, our level of success or struggle will be determined not solely by the quality of our output, but increasingly by how much we put the convenience of consumers (primarily, but not only, readers) over our own convenience as authors.
Our level of success or struggle will be determined by how many options we can create for consumers and how many revenue streams for can build for ourselves in doing so. The two are inextricably linked.
Through January I’m going to take a closer look at each of those questions so we can start this new year with a clear idea of just how well we are performing against those criteria now, and how we might engage further with the Global New Renaissance as 2016 unfolds.
◊ ◊ ◊
Part 1: Are you a one-format author?
Here we may be smugly thinking, “No problem, I’ve got a mobi and an epub. Box ticked.”
ell, score 2 out of 10 for that. It’s a start. But if we’re to fully embrace the opportunities presented by the Global New Renaissance we need to broaden our idea of format.
We pretty much all have our titles up in the Kindle store (mobi) and many of us will be using an aggregator or going direct to Apple, Nook or Kobo (epub). But having mobi and epub files out there is just the first step on the road to format diversity.
And format diversity is the key to those elusive but lucrative multiple-income streams most of us will need to allow us to ride out the peaks and troughs of our ebook sales.
Smashwords is one aggregator that lets us make our titles available in multiple digital formats. PDFs, for example, among many more obscure formats we may never have heard of, but that some consumers still use.
In the smartphone era that’s not so important, but given it requires no extra effort on our part (assuming we’ve survived the Meatgrinder) it’s crazy not to have our titles available to those who are still using dinosaur devices to read on.
And speaking of dinosaur devices, how are we doing with print?
If our focus is on ebooks and then, if we can be really, really bothered one particularly wet and windy afternoon, we paste our ebook manuscript into a CreateSpace template and stick it out there for the sake of appearances, or to make our ebooks look a bargain, or to send a copy to our Great Aunt Doris, then we are one-format ebook authors.
If we never ever promote our POD titles because it’s well, you know, “print”, and it will never sell anyway, then we are one-format ebook authors.
Not that there’s anything wrong with CreateSpace – it should be the first port of call for print for all indie authors. But with emphasis on the word “first”.
CreateSpace is great – and it’s free if you can manage all the stages yourself. But if we’re serious about print distribution and reaching print reader we’ll need to be on board with other print operators as well. Ingram, for example.
Here’s the thing: if we are treating print as an afterthought to our ebooks, convinced our print titles will never sell anyway, then we are not just failing to put readers first, but we are short-changing ourselves.
Because even in 2016, over half a decade after the “ebook revolution” began – most US readers prefer print. And the same goes for the rest of the world, only more so.
Over 625 million print titles were sold in the US last year. How many were yours?
If we do have POD titles available and no-one is buying them we need to ask ourselves why.
Yes, getting our print titles into bricks & mortar stores is a challenge, of course. Not impossible, but not that easy.
Whereas making our print titles available online through Amazon, and via Amazon in numerous other online bookstores, is easy.
So no, the bricks & mortar bookstore excuse won’t wash. Not when some half of all print books sold in the US are sold online.
Yet most indies are still selling next to nothing in print even on Amazon.
Why? I’ll be taking a closer look at our print options in the near future, examining why so many indies struggle with print sales.
Here just to sum it up in three words:
Yes, read that last one again. Promotion.
Contrary to popular indie belief, there’s not a law making it illegal to mention our print titles and print links when we promote our books.
But when was the last time you saw an indie author tweet or FB their print title?
Or maybe some of us are still staring in bewilderment at that suggestion that we (take a deep breath before we say it) promote our print titles.
“But all my followers and friends are ebook readers!” we cry.
Well sorry, but who’s fault is that? Do we seriously believe only ebook readers are on twitter and Facebook, and print readers live on some remote island where the internet hasn’t yet reached?
Get real. Print is still king even in the USA, currently the world’s biggest ebook market.
The savvy indie author will be working ebooks and print in tandem, not hiding our print titles in the basement and hoping no-one ever finds them.
And not just paperbacks. But how many indies do we know who have
- Hardcover editions?
- Special collectors’ editions?
- Multiple-sizes of paperback to suit reader preferences?
- Large-print editions for the visually-impaired?
Need I go on?
But of course there’s more to multiple formats than ebooks and print. And this is where we really need to start thinking about ourselves and what we do in slightly different light.
Yes, we’re authors. Yes, we write books. Or at least, ebooks. But more importantly we write content. We create intellectual property. Our book is not just a book. It’s an intellectual property. An IP.
And if we can start thinking of ourselves as IP creators then a realm of new opportunities opens up to us.
Any indie still not taking audio seriously as we kick off 2016 needs a severe talking to.
Audio is one of the fastest growing formats, and when it comes to generating multiple income streams audio is a great way to reach new audiences with just some tweaking of our existing content.
Amazon’s ACX makes it easy, cheap and painless to produce and sell audio-books, and of course there are lots of other options to reach the audio-book market.
But no need to stop at audio.
I’ll be returning to these alternative format options in detail in future posts, but here just to mention a few further ways in which we can tweak our existing content to fit new formats, reach new audiences and create new income streams.
- Radio, TV and film
Now that may seem like a ginormous leap out of our comfort zone, but as I’ll be showing in future posts, if we can step outside the “I’m an indie ebook author” box then the only limits are those we choose to let confine us.
As Amazon expands its original-video output there’s an easy-to-get-the-attention-of production outfit right there.
Netflix this past week has expanded its video streaming options globally and is now available in 190 countries, with more to come.
Video streaming operators are breeding like rabbits and have reach far beyond their own shores.
There are any number of smaller production companies around the globe crying out for quality content.
Gone are the days when getting video distribution meant the support of a major film studio, a TV broadcaster or a satellite company to reach an audience.
Just like with ebooks, digital video and audio content is available on a global scale unimaginable just a few years ago. Yet how many indies ebook authors are even thinking about reaching radio and video audiences in their own country, let alone globally?
No, we don’t need to take a crash course in screenplay writing or radio scripting to be in with a chance.
Yes, there’s always the possibility the BBC or Spielberg will come cold-calling wanting to option our ebook for the big screen, the small screen or the talky-box. But that’s not very likely.
So why not make some effort to meet them half-way?
- Get an agent who specialises in licencing rights.
- Sign up with a specialist rights operator who will put your titles into a database so that production crews can discover them.
- Partner with a scriptwriter to adapt your work for film, TV, radio or whatever.
I’ll be offering some detailed suggestions on how in future posts.
Other formats? Again, I’ll be coming back on these in detail as we go, but here just to offer a few suggestions.
Digital magazines have been getting a bad press in 2015 thanks to falling revenues, but that’s an advertisers’ issue, not a reflection on the format, which is a great way for indie authors to reach new audiences. Another income stream in the bag for very little effort.
- Serialized content
E-magazines are a great way to offer serialized content.
So is our preferred format, ebooks. In fact, serialized content ought to be high on our list of format options to keep those multiple income steams coming in.
There is a growing number of independent operators offering serialized ebooks, and lots more coming forward.
Yes, we can simply serialize our own, and put them out through our usual distribution channels, but these guys have the fancy apps and distribution networks that go beyond our normal indie reach. More on this as we go.
- Illustrated versions of our works?
Pictures aren’t just for kids, after all, as the adult-colouring book craze clearly shows.
In fact there are a ton of ways we can add value to our titles by offering variant versions. with and without images, with and without and additional content and enhancements.
Once we step outside our “I’m an indie ebook author” box and start thinking about our titles as IPs instead of just ebooks we can also start thinking in terms of merchandising.
If we have managed to attract a serious fan-base then our book is more than just an ephemeral read.
Just think about the books we read ourselves. Some books are read, discarded and forgotten. Others stay with us forever.
Not just the books, as a whole, but the covers, the characters, the storylines, the concepts…
We write space opera with galactic battleships and distant-planets among the stars? We’ve got a fantastic cover everyone drools over? Or maybe we write paranormal fantasy with those oh-so-cute-and-colourful covers?
Why not make those cover available in other formats?
Give it away as a screen saver. Make it available to download for free or to buy or gift as a mouse-mat or a coffee mug or even a framed print.
For children’s books the possibilities are endless, but this will work great for adult titles too.
No, they won’t sell in millions, of course, but if they are good they will sell, and there are any number of companies offering printed product services to create novelty items like these, and many will deliver direct to the customer, so all you need to do is set up the product in their system and send them the orders. Just like POD.
Their value is not just in the direct sales to the fans themselves, but in having those images out there being seen by other people who have never heard of us or our books.
More on merchandising our IPs at a later date.
Other formats to consider? The list is endless. But how about
- Stage theatre
Not convinced? Just look at how many stage productions and musicals are actually adaptations of books. What could be more improbable as a musical than Les Miserables?
No, we don’t need to learn stagecraft or be musicians or lyricists to get in on the act, and more than we need to be screenwriters to see our books considered for adaptation to film or TV.
For children’s authors writing shorter titles there’s a great opportunity to write mini-plays for school classes to act out. I’m working on just this with my children’s adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
And yes, I’m seriously toying with the idea of Sherlock: The Musical. Not that I have any musical talent whatsoever. I’ll leave that aspect to the experts. But I am putting together an outline and when I’m happy with that I’ll be looking to partner with third parties who can work their magic and, just maybe, make it happen.
Sherlock of course is public domain and has huge brand recognition.
Tweaking public domain properties is a great way of reaching new audiences. Just look at the myriad spin-offs of Jane Austen’s works that litter the ebook scene.
But how many of those will ever be more than just ebook variations? No matter how good they may be?
As part of my Classics For Kids series I’m working (very slowly) on a children’s adaption of my favourite Austen title, Pride & Prejudice. My Sherlock For Kids series itself is picking up steam, and a good example of tweaking content to reach new audiences, with translations already out there, audio books on the way, and other formats being worked on.
Tweaking our erotica titles for the children’s market would obviously be a step too far, but for older children and teen readers many of our more mainstream works might well work well in an abridged and slightly less “mature” format.
After all, younger teens at school will be studying and reading adult works from Shakespeare and Austen, Dickens and Bronte. None of which were ever intended for children. And many best-selling so-called YA titles were again written with an adult audience in mind.
Having an adult and a YA version or even an older-children’s version of our adult-intended work, tweaked slightly for language and content to suit the audience, is just one more way reach new audiences with existing content and expand the reach for our new content to reach new audiences and generate more income streams.
Translations are of course another. I’ll cover this in detail later in this series of posts.
I’m on target to have well over fifty translations out before this year is over, and while only a handful of been significant sellers to far they are all bringing in extra income streams I otherwise wouldn’t have.
And of course translations aren’t limited to ebooks and print. I’ve audio-translations in the works and I’m looking at other formats to expand their reach.
But let’s wind this post up with the language that is, for most of us, our first and only language.
First and foremost, English isn’t just English.
Way back in 2011 my UK best-seller got hammered by American readers for using British English spellings. Ouch!
The reviewer Red Adept declared the book Mystery of the Year but advised readers to be wary of “Britishisms” and British-English spellings.
So I re-wrote the entire book in American English and, while I was at it relocated the entire story to the US, and had two versions available – one for British and one for American readers.
Only to be accused of “gaming the system”. Sometimes you just can’t win…
Nowadays American readers are much more cosmopolitan. Back in print-only days British titles sold in America were tweaked with American- English spellings and other changes – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example. A Quidditch pitch became a Quidditch field.
Many indies today still produce their titles in American-English and British-English versions. Yes, it’s easy to say those readers should get a life. After all British-English and American-English are not so different as to make the text unintelligible.
But these authors are putting the readers first. Always a good idea. Just ask Amazon, who have built their business on being customer-centric.
When a customer-centric tweak can be as simple as having variant-English spellings versions of our books it’s well worth considering.
The British-English and American-English versions of my best-seller sit nicely on the Amazon shelves and while the British—English original has sold far more better, the American-English version’s sales have proved more than worthwhile.
The more customer-centric we are as authors, the more income streams we can achieve as a result. Sounds good to me!
And for children’s books, the issue of variant spelling is all the more important.
Many British schools disapprove of American books, not because of the content but because of the American-English. How can young children in the UK be expected to spell colour in the British-English fashion when they are reading American books where color is the accepted spelling?
Yes, they are both “correct”, but try using American-English spellings in your British school exams and say goodbye to that top grade. Variant spellings matter.
And it’s not just an issue for young children. If you are a reluctant teen reader, a late-to-literacy adult learner, or an English-as-a-Second-Language student in Europe learning British-English then the variant spellings may well be an issue.
But don’t look on this as another nuisance getting in the way of our more important work of shouting “Buy My Book!” on Facebook. Look on it as yet another way in which we can diversify our output and generate new income streams.
- Easy-English and ESL
As 2015 closed I launched my Easy-English series of adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, aimed at reluctant teen readers, late-to-literacy adults and English-as-a-second-language readers who have mastered the basics of English but are not yet confident enough to tackle the Conan Doyle originals.
Later this year I will be working with an ESL professor in Argentina to produce fully-fledged ESL versions geared specifically to the demands of the ESL circuit.
ESL is a humungous and ridiculously fast-growing sector of the publishing industry. More on this in a future discussion.
Don’t tempt me. This post is long enough already.
No, not all formats will be suited to all titles, but many titles will be suited, with just a little tweaking we can often do ourselves, to many variant formats.
And for more challenging formats like radio, film, manga, translations, etc, etc, there’s nothing but our own inertia to stop us reaching out to producers who specialise ln these formats to do it all for us.
Or partnering with other writers, artists, scriptwriters, etc, to produce our own.
After all, very few of us design our own covers or do our own editing. We farm out the work to third parties.
And we can do the same to embrace the variant formats that might suit our content but that are beyond our own skills range.
Not just revamping our existing works, but creating new IPs from scratch with multi-format options a consideration from day one.
◊ ◊ ◊
In parts 2-5 of this series I’ll be asking if we are one-retailer, one-market, one-language, and one-SMP ebook authors and I’ll expand on the myriad options for each as we go.
As we kick off 2016 we indie content suppliers have unparalleled reach and unprecedented opportunities to stretch our creative abilities and reach audiences quite unthinkable just a few years ago.
If only we can step outside our “I’m a one-format indie ebook author” box.
One of my all-time favourite films is Dead Poet’s Society. Required watching for anyone who aspires to be an author or a teacher.
A film about a teacher who understood the only limits to our achievements are the limits we allow ourselves to be shackled by.
A teacher of English literature – of Shakespeare and Byron, in whose footsteps we now follow – who encouraged his students not to be sheep and take the road most travelled by, but to explore new horizons and break new ground.
To seize the day. Carpe diem! To make their lives extraordinary.
So in tribute to the star of that film, the late Robin Williams – a village-hall stand-up comic who defied the shackles of format and limited expectations to become first a TV actor and then a movie star, I leave you with this thought as we start another new year.
Carpe annum! Seize the year!
Diversify in 2016! Let’s make our indie lives extraordinary!
◊ ◊ ◊
For daily news and discussion about the global indie publishing scene join this lively Facebook Group.