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Posts Tagged ‘ebooks’

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Amanda Palmer. Shit-stirrer.

So, the lovely Amanda Palmer was talking on Twitter the other day about piracy, streaming and so on and actively encouraging people to share and talk about and promote music. This was taken by some as advocacy of piracy and… then the slanging match got started.

The equally lovely Sarah Pinborough – a writer rather than a musician – surprised me by coming out against filesharing and so on, engaging quite strongly in a conversation about piracy and the problems it creates for creators.

Needless to say there’s some disagreement both within the musician community and the writing community about all this with people on all sides and battle lines drawn. By and large tough the kind of circles I move in have come to accept that piracy exists and that its the cost of doing business, a trade for the enormous benefits of the internet.

Those companies in gaming that have embraced the internet and changed their business model have made great strides (Paizo, Evil Hat, Posthuman) while those frozen in an older mode of business have been clumsy and have lost ground (Wizards). So, to say I find the more traditionalist attitude to the internet as badwrong perplexing is an understatement.

However, during the argument,  people linked to studies and gave reasons and, as ever, studies contradicted each other and the sources and sponsors were called into question. However, Sarah is a pretty switched on person, seems to make good use of social media, is delightful, interesting and sweary by turns and someone I had thought was ‘doing it right’ so – perceptions challenged – I had another look at things as they stand today and reconsidered where it is that I am on the nature of the internet and creative endeavour.

  • Whether we think the changes are a Good Thing(TM) or not, they have changed. It’s useless to hope for the ‘good old days’ to come back and in many ways they weren’t that good anyway for a large number of people.
  • Realistically speaking there is no way to protect books, music, games. There will always be a way around it and attempts to lock down content only piss off your legitimate customers and make things more difficult for them.
  • As a creator, you are your brand as much as the stuff you’re creating. A presence and a personal connection with your audience fans is the best and perhaps the only way to make impacting on your living meaningful to them. Keep in mind that the average person can only actually relate directly to 150 others (the Dunbar number or Monkeysphere) so this is always going to be a little illusory but it doesn’t take much to make an impact on someone.
  • The idea of ‘1000 true fans‘ works in some arenas but writing has been devalued a huge amount. A novel is more like an album than a single and with both selling for a  buck its not hard to see that $1,000 per book – once or twice a year – isn’t a goer and even musically $12,0000 once or twice a year is better, but not hugely liveable. Even if you go the hermetic-artist existence.
  • The Long-Tail compensates somewhat for this as you’ll go on making sales at a lower rate over time, potentially for your lifetime. As you build up a body of work this makes creative life more sustainable long term and may be a viable retirement plan in a world where job security has the same mythological status as dragons.
  • One model that does seem to work in mobilising fans and getting money up front is crowdfunding and hostageware. That gets your 1,000 true fans to spend more on your projects, to promote your projects, to be activists for you and your work and all in exchange for a greater closeness to you, the work and a feeling of participation. It’s like old style patronage, but distributed. I don’t know how long this can hold out and how much use it is to new people but if you have an established presence it can equal an income AND you can give away the resulting work should you so choose. One major downside is the degree of entitlement and lack of understanding contributors have for delays or problems.
  • Piracy does help the little guy in getting known. Word of mouth is often all there is and people like to browse, to see something before they buy it. As the death of the UK high street is showing that’s becoming increasingly difficult. You’re not going to find new music or authors in stores. MTV doesn’t play music. The radio plays oldies or the most banal shit going. The music companies haven’t grasped that streaming is the new radio and are crippling services like Spotify and Grooveshark into unsustainable business models compared to the old media. So what other options are there?

So there’s the problems and the state of affairs as I think it stands and I really don’t think there’s anything we can ‘do’ about digital piracy without sacrificing a free and open internet and going the way of China and North Korea. I don’t think that’s very appealing whether its governments or legions of corporate attack lawyers doing the enforcement.

If you want to see how to succeed I think you need to look at the people who make it work. You can’t do the exact same things they do, you’ve got to be your own thing, but there’s pointers there. Look at Warren Ellis,  Amanda Palmer, Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Adrianne Curry, Neal Stephenson, Fred Hicks, Notch, Adam Jury, Penny-Arcade (and friends) and hopefully, one day, me. I do suffer the huge disadvantage of being British and regarding self-promotion as terribly gauche narcissism, but we’ll see.

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I completed a set of short stories and my first novel this year. Not all of them are up for sale yet but some are and they might make good stocking-stuffers for people you know with kindles, tablets and all that mularky.

Perfect for reading on the train, at lunch or anywhere else you can grab a few spare minutes to plunge into the imagination.

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51klgn%2BocCL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgAce Slamm: Space Bastard

Years after World War 2 was interrupted by a space invasion, rocket pilot Ace Slamm finds himself approached by three strange individuals. They want to buy a ride on his ship to Dyzan, the counter-Earth. The scientist, the feisty beauty and the sportsman are hell bent on getting to that blasted planet, but their steps are being dogged my a mysterious man in a shining metal mask.

Amazon

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51wdzMkL18L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgMimsy Burogrove: Psychedelic Detective

In swinging London, consulting for the police on strange cases, Mimsy operates out of her trendy flat. A heady concoction of mysticism, psi and LSD gives her access to the psycheverse, a spirit-dimension There are things in the psycheverse that long to gain access to the real world as well and Mimsy may well find herself a conduit for evil spirits like Mean Mr Mustard.

Amazon

https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51GWRKQ7oqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgThe Black Rat

The 1970s are a grim time in Britain. Power outages, the three-day-week and rife with police corruption and right wing violence. The Black Rat, a sort of ‘working class Batman’ takes to the streets to try and bring a little vigilante justice and payback for those the police have wronged.

Amazon

https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51crqHB5aZL.Image._.jpgDoc Osmium: Synchronius Maximus

Two-fisted genetic superman, Doc Osmium, finds himself inexorably drawn into a series of inexplicable and seemingly unconnected events. There’s more to it though and he and his new companion must find a way to navigate the strands of fate and probability and to overcome the odds.

Amazon

https://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51NP%2BajE0NL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-59,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgTessa Coyle: The Obsolete Prometheus

After the atom wars there were few places left where there was true civilisation. Science City is one and it depends on its bleeding edge technology to survive. This super-science transcends ethics, physics and even reality and can only be constrained by The Science Police. When experiments start going wrong, electropunk heroine Tessa and her companion Robur are on the case.

Amazon

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There’s a new start-up business which could turn out to be very useful to indie authors, game producers etc.

Gumroad is a sales service where everything is contained within a link. This seems, to me, to be perfect for indie authors and game publishers as a short-link is eminently sharable and essentially allows the ‘shop’ for an individual product to go viral across Twitter, Facebook etc. It also means you can code a ‘store’ with basic HTML by listing the sales links and while it lacks a shopping cart for multiple it seems bloody useful otherwise, particularly because of the immediacy.

You’ll lose 30 cents plus 5%, which for cheap items (smallest price is a buck) is not really any worse or better than most middle-man storefronts (35% being a typical cut taken). As your prices rise though, the rate of return improves quickly until it outstrips the offerings of most storefronts.

For people with a pre-existing, built in audience and a strong social media presence, this could be a fantasy solution.

I’m testing it out, but I don’t know that I have the audience to make it work yet, I’ll let you know how it goes. So far my only problem is that it seems to create every link twice! That’s probably just me being a spooner though.

Doubletap: Two short pulp stories, $2 https://gumroad.com/l/UcZf

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Anyone and everyone can write and produce a book now and apparently in the minds of some this means that the pillars of heaven are shaking and hell is coming to Frogtown. I beg to differ.

It is cock-explodingly awesome that anyone who loves words can slap together something in Word, pay a mate a fiver for a stick figure drawing and throw their work up on to the Internet for anyone to download, read and enjoy. This is a good thing. It is revolutionary. It is amazing. It means that the barrier to being able to get something published is not, necessarily, being moneyed but having a reasonable amount of savvy for pecking at a keyboard with your fingers.

Of course, a lot of this stuff that comes spewing forth from the minds of The Infinite Monkeys is shite. Sturgeon’s Law still applies (90% of anything is crap) but this has always been the case. For every Charles Dickens there’s a Thomas Prest, for every Charlotte Bronte a Joanna Trollope, for every Robert E Howard a Jim Theis.

The difference now is that we need to rely on our own discernment and that of our friends. The great guardians at the gates of publishing are in the process of being rendered irrelevant. Bookshops are vanishing at a rate of knots as online ordering continues its rampage.

If we’re going to find good books, good stories, then we need to find reliable people who know what they’re talking about. To become our own ‘gateway guardians’. Writers groups, review blogs, a stamp or mark of quality from writers who back each other up and share audiences. Consumers and producers need to look out for each other and need to make a conscious effort to rave about it when we find something cool, rather than just whining and complaining and spewing comedy invective when we find something we don’t like.

I’ve been writing RPG material since ’99, and full time since 2004/2005. It takes time to make a reputation (and it’s not always the one you want) but I have to believe that genuinely trying your best and turning out quality will eventually bring you an audience, appreciation and exposure. The writing business is just broader and more dilute.

Agree or disagree?

How can we turn people on to quality?

How can we create a marque that people can trust without the traditional model?

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I normally write role-playing games, not fiction. The ebook revolution has, in many ways, already happened to the RPG industry and a lot of the problems and concerns that regular publishing – and authors – are now facing have already been faced by that niche industry. There are some big differences, of course, as a niche RPGs have a close-knot and incestuous community, even more so than genre fiction, and while the output is quite big and quite creative it is not as easy to get lost in the crowd in gaming as it is in writing.

Still, I think there’s some lessons to be learned that might travel across to e-publishing on a more general basis.

Sturgeon’s Law – Or how I Learned to Stop Worrying about other People’s Crap

Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of anything is crap. 90% of what’s on television? Crap. 90% of what’s published? Crap. This hasn’t necessarily changed with the advent and ease of epublishing, it just means that there’s a much bigger volume of stuff and that makes it much harder to get noticed. While that means numerically there’s a lot more crap it also means there’s more gems and that’s going to include your stuff and mine, because we’re awesome.

You just have to trust that people are capable of separating the wheat from the chaff and knowing crap when they smell it. Persistence and quality pays off in the long run, it’s paid off for me in producing RPG material and good rep builds on itself over time. Reviews, samples and endorsements help a hell of a lot.

The more you produce, the better quality it is, the more likely people are to find your work and the more likely people are to check out your other work. The ‘long tail’ as its called. After all, it doesn’t really cost anything extra to keep an ebook in ‘stock’.

In-Community

It’s been really helpful and useful to build an inward community of like minded writers, designers and so on. Nobody has every necessary skill and working together acts like a ‘force multiplier’ for skills, contacts and so on. A strong in-community that is known to be associated with one another also creates a crossover for promotion and reputation that can be useful for everyone involved.

Out-Community

The more you talk about what you’re doing, your ideas, what’s coming up the more interest and excitement you build up and the more opportunity there is for interested parties to spread the news. Talking about your ideas, your products, why you wrote them, what you were thinking… this all takes up time but it can pay off in a big way if you genuinely manage to engage with people.

You’re Not Just a Writer Now

You’ve got to do so many things, especially if you want to minimise costs as much as possible, which is going to be important especially when you’re starting out. In RPGs we can skimp on the editing, people’s standards aren’t too high, you can’t do that in conventional writing so much – it’s one of the main markers between a professional and an amateur, but you can do a lot of other things yourself.

Publicity, sales, presentations, conventions, online presence, all of this you’ll need to do yourself and it eats time and often enthusiasm. It’s exhausting and not what you get into writing (or game design) for by any means but if you want to make any money you’re going to have to.

I suck at selling myself, so much so that I took on someone else to do that for me on a semi-voluntarily and in exchange for help/mentorship. Most of us have reticence about that and unease about spamming and so forth, but to an extent you have to, if you’re going to sell.

Wincest

Gaming benefits to a big degree from its incestuous community. This isn’t a bad thing, really. A lot of the consumers of games are also designers of games. The community is informed and mutually supportive (much of the time). They get excited about each other’s projects and talk about them which helps spread the news and up sales and exposure for everyone. Provided an incestuous community is not also an insular community, it can help everyone involved.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Low prices can be a driver of sales but won’t do it by themselves. People will pay more for quality and can perceive higher prices as an indicator of quality. If everything by everyone is selling at the lowest possible price there’s no real benefit to be had.

Paradoxically if you have a reasonable or good name you can do a lot better by dropping your prices. More people want it, more people are willing to take a risk.

Bits & Mortar

Lots of people still like to buy hardcopy. E-versions should be cheaper but they’re also so cheap to send/provide that they can supplement hardcopy sales. There’s no harm in sending someone an e-book version free of charge if they’ve bought the hardcopy. They get their book instantly and don’t have to wait and that can tide ’em over until the physical book arrives in the post. It adds value and accessibility.

In Conclusion

I think there’s a lot that ebook fiction writers can learn from the experiences of the RPG industry. We’ve been through a lot of  and the same growing pains. Paranoia about copies and piracy (short version – fuck DRM, it ain’t worth it for anyone). Inappropriate pricing (e-versions should be at LEAST half of the hardcopy cover price).

There’s a lot that can be learned that’s advantageous. Creating community ‘brands’ from like-minded people, finding outlets that work for you to sell and directing custom there and, over everything else, I think the main thing is to have patience.

I know a lot of these sorts of things have been said by others, so you can view this as practical confirmation of those ideas. I’m sure there’s things I’ve missed and I don’t claim to be a guru, but if anyone has any questions I’m happy to answer them in the comments.

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