As promised, Sandy Asher and I are back with another month of WRITERS AT WORK, this time to talk about publishing e-books and books on demand. Today I lead off. Over the next three Tuesdays we’ll feature Paula Morrow, Michael Wilde, and Sandy. Please feel free to add your thoughts as we go!
WRITERS AT WORK
Topic 11: About this Business of Internet Publishing
Response 1: David
March 6, 2012
Okay, Sandy, here’s a subject on everyone’s mind these days: the publication of e-books and books printed on order. In other words, technology-assisted self publishing. Do you remember the first time you heard authors talking about electronic publishing? I do. We were at one of the annual Children’s Literature Festivals in Warrensburg, Missouri. After a day of talking to students, some of us were relaxing in one of the rooms where we were staying when the conversation turned to e-books. No one in the group had tried one yet but there was lively interest in the potential. All I could do was listen. I knew so little about this newfangled kind of publishing that I was afraid to open my mouth.
As in any new field, someone has to go first. A lot of you know Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell and are familiar with their pioneering efforts to publish e-book collections of poetry for young people. My toe-in-the-water experience came last year when they invited me to be one of thirty poets represented in PoetryTagTime, the first anthology of children’s poems published as an e-book.
They also invited me to participate in two other collections before the year was up, p*tag (for teens) and Gift Tag (for the holidays). To learn more, here’s the link: www.PoetryTagTime.com .
So what led to my decision to publish my own e-book? Since 1989 we’ve lived beside a small lake that supports a rich variety of plants and animals. I’ve dubbed it Goose Lake. As an old biologist it pleases me greatly to watch and take notes. Two years ago I wrote a book of prose and poems about the place.
My wife liked GOOSE LAKE (always a good sign!) and said it was my best work ever. I sent it out. Editor One said, “Absolutely lovely. I’ll buy a copy for myself if you get it published but right now my sales department would lynch me if I take on any more poetry.” Editor Two: “Your writing is quite wonderful. These poems are not simply gorgeous reflections on the beauty of nature, but rather active stories of animal observations and interactions. Unfortunately, nature poetry collections are sadly not at the top of my list.” Editor Three: “Your poetic prose and image-rich poetry complement one another in giving a multi-faceted view of the many creatures, indoors, as well as out.” And so on.
After two more such experiences I became a prime candidate to try an e-book. I knew I had a good manuscript and five editors had turned it down. I asked Janet Wong for advice. She took a lot of time to explain the procedures and nudge me in the right direction. Through her I was introduced to Sladjana Vasic, the talented artist who agreed to illustrate GOOSE LAKE, and her husband, Milos, who formatted the finished book for uploading onto the Amazon and Barnes & Noble store sites. I’m skipping most of the details involved because one e-book hardly makes me an expert and any effort to try to describe them would take far more room than I have here. I hope it’s needless to say that I’m not encouraging people to go fogging over to Janet’s site with pleas for help!
(Janet, if you’re reading this, let the record show that I’m trying to save you!)
On December 15, 2011, GOOSE LAKE was published as an e-book on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Goose-Lake-Year-Life-ebook/dp/B006MGDDHS/ref=zg_bs_155213011_1%20 ) and Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/goose-lake-a-year-in-the-life-of-a-lake-david-l-harrison/1107998233?ean=2940013876583&itm=8&usri=goose+lake+ ). I don’t have it up yet on iTunes but hope to master that trick one of these days. The process (exclusive of the writing), from my first note to Janet to the day the book was e-published, took 46 days.
You may be more interested in sales than in the details so here’s the report to date. As my own publisher, I’m paid 70% of net income from Amazon and 65% from Barnes & Noble. And I get to do all of my own promotion. (You’re supposed to smile.) If you read WRITERS AT WORK in January, you’ll remember our discussion about how hard it is for many of us to pound our own chests. It doesn’t get easier when your book exists only when you download it onto a reading device or computer. In the books that Janet and Sylvia did, there were thirty poets and, therefore, the potential for a lot of promotional oomph on the order of thirty times more than one person might do. Furthermore, children’s poetry is considered by most publishers to be difficult to sell in the best of circumstances. The niche is further restricted by its small foothold in the world of e-books. I could be wrong but I bet the market is better for picture books and longer stories.
During the first week or so after GOOSE LAKE came out, I e-mailed notices to quite a few friends and colleagues. I mailed letters to neighbors around the lake. I posted the news of my first e-book on my blog. I mentioned the free apps you can add from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=sa_menu_karl4?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771 ) or Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/free-nook-apps/379002321 ) so you can download the book onto your computer. A friend of mine also sent an e-blast to friends on her list. GOOSE LAKE debuted well. After five days it ranked #1 on Amazon’s Kindle Store for e-books of children’s poetry and #44 for general poetry. I was feeling gooood. Uh-huh!
But that was all I knew to do. And when I stopped touting my book, it began sliding down the scale rather quickly. It went from 1st to 20th to 50th in a matter of weeks. Now and then it would shoot back toward the top when someone out there bought a copy, but we’re talking about small numbers making big differences. I just now checked the rating on Amazon.com and I’m back in 14th place so I’ve had a few more sales. It drives you crazy if you look too often. I think they change rankings every hour.
I’ve been delighted to have interviews and features lately on some wonderful blog sites such as Robyn Hood Black’s (http://www.robynhoodblack.com/blog.htm?post=828175 ), Roxie Hanna’s (http://wp.me/pBU4R-T2 ), and Laura Purdie Salas’s (http://laurasalas.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/poetry-friday-is-here-at-goose-lake ). Such exposure helps very much. I’ve also received great advice on how to promote one’s e-book from Barbara Gregorich (http://www.barbaragregorich.com ) about selecting potential markets and seeking write-ups in special interest newsletters. God knows when I can get to such time-consuming activities, but I can easily understand the absolute need to try.
So, Sandy, my conclusions about this grand experiment so far? Hmm. Well I’m a long way from breaking even but it’s still very early. I enjoy the fact that I’ve been able to bring my work to readers who might never have seen it otherwise. I appreciate (always did) what traditional publishers do to help promote their authors’ books. I’m admittedly still close to the bottom of the learning curve about e-books and how to make them work. Would I consider trying another one? I won’t rule it out but for now I need to get better at promoting GOOSE LAKE. Then we’ll see . . .