I have a sense of isolation...
There’s an air of anticipation whenever an author I know gets a publishing deal. There’s the waiting, and the building of tension as the author goes through the process of editing and re-editing. Tales are regaled of how “My editor told me to kill off the main character’s wife so we could ramp-up the emotional dynamic.” A bit severe for a cookery book ...
Ultimately, there is launch day.
I’ve witnessed several book launches and they all have something in common: friends, family and associates turn up at a bookshop or other chosen venue. The author and his/her publisher proudly look around at the assembled masses, chat politely, and in turn they buy copies if the book. Some buy multiple copies for friends and families. The author signs as many as possible and, having long since lost the ability to handwrite through years of computer use, suffers severe finger cramps.
The attendees are under a duty to buy: they have been personally invited - or even bullied - and will feel that they haven’t fulfilled their obligation if they don’t get at least one copy. If they have left their wallet/purse/credit card/roubles at home, there is always a promise that they will buy it soon. These defaulters (also called 'marked men') know that now they are now committed and that they must get a copy at the earliest opportunity after the launch so that they can track the author down and wave the book at him/her to get it signed.
Family members who can’t attend also feel an obligation to buy, but they can bide their time a little. Just as long as they have their copy before the family’s very own version of Charles Dickens pops in for that Christmas glass of port and to check that THE BOOK adorns the bookshelf. Canny family members will leave the pristine copy on the telephone table in the front hallway so that the visiting Dickens can see it immediately he/she arrives.
If the author happens to be a member of a writers’ circle or group, other members will attend the launch and buy the book. Or they buy it afterwards and produce it at a meeting for all to see that they, too, support those lucky enough to beat the slush piles of agents and/or publishers.
The more people the author knows and who attend the launch party or local signings, the more sales he/she will have in the first few weeks, and it makes for a warm and cuddly feeling to know that so many people are supporting the writer.
The cover price is irrelevant to all of this: if the book comes out in hardback at £18 - £25, attendees may be less inclined to purchase multiple copies, but as the royalties on hardbacks are that much higher than on paperbacks, it’s not too much of an issue for the author.
So, the author has a ready pool of purchasers who will pass on the word to other people, and some of this initial pool will be kind enough to post reviews on Amazon and such places. I have posted reviews in similar circumstances.
This is how traditionally published authors often make their first multiple sales.
Or you can self-publish the work as an e-book and not have any of that visible support.
Publishing straight to e-book format is, in theory, a good idea. An author can get the book into worldwide circulation very quickly and because he/she is fully in control, the price can be set low enough to encourage people to buy it. The author can make a similar royalty on an e-book priced at or around £2.99 as he can on a hardback book going for about £18! E-book sales are rapidly increasing while paper book sales are declining – particularly in the USA. What’s not to love about e-book publishing?
But who is going to buy it?
Hold up your hand and count. How many people do you know that own a proprietary e-reading device such as Kindle, Kobo, Sony reader or, in the USA, a Nook? How many people do you know that own an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch (or an Android smart phone or tablet) and actually read books on it?
I am a member of a writers’ circle with a regular membership of between 40 and 50 people. Many of these people have heard and/or read extracts of Pike’s Quest and have offered help and support in the writing process – pointing out which bits weren’t funny, which bits worked well, etc. I am extremely grateful for this. Without the help and support of Verulam Writers’ Circle I would not have achieved a high enough standard to release Pike as any kind of book. But here’s the rub: I am aware of only two VWC members who have bought Pike’s Quest. There may be more (I hope so), but they are not making themselves known. They can’t get my signature on the e-book, and they know I know that. And there's always that lingering issue about whether or not this is real publishing. [EDIT - 31 May 2012 - see http://www.kjbennett.co.uk/#Virtual re Kindlegraphs.]
I know of only one family member who has bought it, and one who is getting an e-reader very shortly and has promised to buy it.
The reason for such a lack of buying is simple – not many people I know possess an e-reader, and no one has been placed under the unspoken obligation to purchase at one of those wonderful launch parties. Would it be different in the USA, where e-readers are more popular than in the UK? I simply don’t know.
Of course, there are many ways to read an e-book, some less attractive than others. Let’s see:
· Proprietary devices
· iAnything devices
· Android devices
· Apps for PC and Mac.
· Apps for other smart phones – e.g. BlackBerry
My favourite is the Kindle: the Kindle e-ink screens are marvellous works of beauty. The text almost leaps out of the page.
I’ve looked at Kobos many times and I find the screen lacks clarity and everything seems to display with double line spaces between paragraphs, reducing the amount of text on display. I also find the touch screen version to have less clarity than the non touch version. The controls on the non-touch version are to my mind, clunky.
I haven’t tried an Android reader yet, so I can’t comment. I did load the Kobo App onto my BlackBerry, but it’s a Curve with a screen that is far too small for me to read an entire novel.
I’m not sure of the reading apps for Mac, but my daughter has an iPod Touch. She downloaded the fee iBook App and I placed Pike’s Quest on there for her. I never thought I would say this, but it looks bloody fantastic, especially when set to sepia. She read the book on it over the course of two days. If you own an iPhone, iPod of iPad and haven’t yet discovered iBooks, you are missing a real treat. Get the App, load a free classic (Jane Austen will do) and see how good it looks. Once you’re convinced, pop along to the iTunes store and pay your 99 cents or 99 pence and getPike’s Quest. You’re only risking a small amount of money, a very small amount.
Finally, the reading apps for PC.
Before I had access to Pike on a Kindle, I used the Kindle app on my laptop. It’s Ok, but not as OK as an iDevice, nor as OK as a proprietary reading device, but it’s not bad at all. Having said that, I wouldn’t relish reading a library of books on a laptop, and even less so in a desktop PC. But, would I part with the princely sum of 99 cents or 86 pence to download the Kindle version of a book written by a fellow author and member/family member to show my support?
For that price? Hell yes. And I would read it.
To end this series on a slightly higher note: I have received several 5 star reviews for Pike on Amazon (UK & US) and e-mails of support from total strangers. Sales so far are slow, and it’s an uphill struggle, especially without the support I described at the start of this piece. But I’m in this for the long haul.
What do I want to get out of this?
Primarily sales of the e-book ... lots of sales, but I want more. I want an agent, I want a publisher and I want Pike in his rightful place - in bookshops, libraries and online stockpiles. Printed. On paper.
Yes, I want to be Geppetto: I want Pike's Quest to be a ‘real’ book!
To read the blurb, click HERE