On When We Find Ourselves In The Desert

Hello Monster Hunters,

We are still proceeding with caution here at Emby, and while I had hopes of an upturn in January’s revenue numbers, we saw another drop instead. For a full explanation of what I’m talking about, please read last November’s “Threading The Needle”. After you’ve perused that post, it will make more sense that I was cautiously optimistic that revenue would rise in January.

Amazon did after all make a big push during the holiday season to increase Prime memberships and the Kindle Unlimited program, growing in popularity, is essentially streaming for literature instead of music. Despite this, the January payout for the Global Select Fund saw another drop and that does not bode well for the rest of this quarter. Hence the desert.

February figures will be released on March 15th (each month’s exact payout is released on the 15th of the next month) and we’ll see what direction those numbers point in, but my eyes are on the start of the summer reading season as the next best hope for an upswing. Logic has it that the there will have to be a bottom hit at some point. The question is, how many presses will be able to survive until then? We’ve already had some bad news on that front with closures, reduced calls for subs and lower payments for acceptances. It makes very clear sense why this is happening, and in an update from last November’s post I can tell you that the research I have done points to a new reality coming into focus – folks who subscribe to KU will only download books included in that service. For the sake of disclosure, my research consists of talking to people about this (and that, admittedly, is not a large group) and reading feedback from different forums and comment sections. But, if a trend is able to be spotted, it is that people will embrace a lower price (duh) and that the mere presence of that lower price brings with it the concept of a “price ceiling” and a sense of value.

What I mean by that is when a consumer signs up for a service at $9.99 a month, this automatically re-shapes their perception of the value range of that product. You can look at the history of any product that used to be expensive but is no longer to see that once a lower price is established, the higher priced item can’t help but look like a rip-off – it’s just how our minds work. So a KU customer who spends that $9.99 a month to download and read as many books as they want is going to balk at dropping $11.99 for the new Stephen King book. Sure, die-hard King fans will still make that purchase and not everybody is a KU customer. But, the majority of casual readers are going to pass and if you need proof of which way that wind blows, look at the music industry: before digital music and streaming existed, bands used to make their money by selling albums. Even the tours were basically live advertising to spike album sales. Now it’s the exact opposite – the money in album and single sales has dried up and bands are hitting the road to make money from live shows.

Which brings us to the positive and uplifting portion of this update.

First, as mentioned previously, Emby will publish the Occult Detective Monster Hunter, Vol. II anthology as well as sequels to Josh Reynold’s Royal Occultist series and Pegler’s Coppertown Red, among others. But the other anthologies are on hold until we hit a bottom in the GSF payout and I have the ability to make a business plan – I can’t knowingly publish books that will lose money. I’ve apologized for the wait and continue to do. I anguish as much as the authors who have submitted stories that the market has developed the way that it has, but it is what it is and I would rather survive to print another day that go in for a last hurrah and flame out. Please consider these anthologies on hold – I am not canceling any books. Please also submit your stories everywhere that you can and get paid for them. When the time comes, I’ll still print them as re-prints, no problem.

Then, get ready to self-publish. I’ve teased for a while that I was going to promote this and the time has come. I’m going to take you back to to science class to kick this off and recount the story of the dinosaurs. Once, there were massive creatures that ruled the earth. Then an asteroid hit (I’m not going for exact science here, so just roll with me) and the environment changed, killing off all of the massive creature and leaving only the smaller creatures to survive and take over the world. As you read this story, you probably spotted my metaphors with the dinosaurs being publishers, Amazon being that asteroid and independent writers being the smaller creatures that take over the world. This is as should be. The environment has changed and it is time for the independent author to rise. We’re talking about desert survival rules here, and it’s time to self-publish.

Here’s why:

1. You can now afford to produce every bit as professional a book as a publisher, often using the same contractors that they use for editing, formatting and cover art. And, if you are spending more than a thousand bucks to produce your first book, you’re spending too much. So make a point to save that money while you write your book – you can do that to support your dream.

2. The knowledge you will gain by going through the process of self-publishing will forever change your view of contracts and what publishers should make off of you. Seriously, the days of anything less than a 50% percent split on an ebook are as done as the dinos. And your considering letting anyone tie up or even take control of your right to publish your material for extended lengths of time is ludicrous. Our industry is changing by the month. Trying to predict what it will look like in 5, 7 or 12 years is impossible.

3. We are quickly moving toward the reality of author celebrity being the only effective way to market. Really. It’s been a while now that authors have promoted their own work through websites, blogs and social media accounts. But, while that started out as fun, it has quickly evolved into the only effective marketing that a book will get. Unless your publisher has you placed in brick-and-mortar stores or is promoting you in the trades and at shows, you’re already doing all of the heavy lifting. So why split the money?

4. What is author celebrity? It’s a term I use to describe the branding that takes place in today’s world. Look at your favorite author – you don’t just read their books, now do you? You read their blog and enjoy the online personality that they’ve developed. You keep up with their social media accounts, interviews and whenever you want to know what they are up to, you go to their website where all of the current information is kept and is on display. That’s more than a book – that’s a brand – that’s author celebrity. Nobody cares about who published their book anymore.

5. You are no longer in the business of just selling books. You are now also in the business of giving them away. Let that settle for a moment. You will always enjoy the revenue created by straight sales from hardcopy signings at conventions or from those folks that will buy your ebook, no matter what. But the majority of your ebooks are now going to be dowloaded by readers for free (or for that flat monthly fee, which is essentially free as far as you are concerned) and you want this to happen. In fact, you want this to happen a lot. The more you are out there, the more you will develop that brand and the more of your books will be read.

6. Stay independent and stay nimble. This means that you can create an Amazon author page and have your books listed there, putting them on sale whenever you want, changing their price whenever you want and adding to the collection whenever you want. The key phrase here is “whenever you want” and in a day and age where it takes publisher a while just to post an update, ahem, you may want to make a move today.

7. Most importantly, you retain your control over your back catalog, and as soon as a person reads and enjoys one of your books, they are going to want to read the rest of them. This reality is only a quick button-press away, you got ‘em. You earned ‘em too, so you may as well enjoy the fruits of your labor. You have the ability to publish novels, novellas, short story collections – it doesn’t matter, because it’s all paid by the page read and anything you have out there is just helping you to gain a new reader base.

Now, there is obviously a lot more to the process than a few simple bullet points, but you can do it. Trust me – writing the book is the hardest part. After that, it’s pretty much trial, error and collection, and saving that money up.

Keep in mind that there is a quality trap to avoid. Just as I council against spending too much money, I council against not spending enough. Don’t even think about not having your book edited. You get one shot per reader – blow it, and they’re on to the next author that they can download for free. So do yourself a service and make editing your number one priority. The next important is formatting. You can be laying down words finer than Shakespeare, but if your book is plagues worth Frma$$ing errors, it goes straight into the bin.

You get one shot.

Last comes the cover, and this is kind of the opposite of what you may think it is. It’s the part that matters the most to you – make no mistake. But when you are selling on Amazon, it’s hard to make out those superfine details, even if you increase the size. You can’t skimp here, but you don’t have to drop crazy bones either. Make sure your title is large enough to read and that you don’t have to squint to make out the images. Remember, you are building the brand of you and that means a lot of folks are already wanting to read your book before they even see the cover.

Do your homework. Research your contractors and compare rates. Find folks that understand your genre. It’s a lot of hours of hard work, but so is writing and you’re used to that. And do it with the idea that you are creating a source of income, just like investing. Once that book is out there, it stays out there. And every time you make a marketing push for new readers, they have a back catalog to catch up one. If they like your stuff, they’ll binge on it just as hard as they do Netflix.

And when the environment changes again, you can adapt again. If publishers come back into style, you can point at your success with sales, your built in audience, and that’ll earn you a lot of positive attention and interest.

So consider selfing it.

The next Emby update will come as we get sales numbers and I have releases to announce.

Until then hunters, adapt to your new environment and win the day.