Friday, 30 March 2012

Little Steps

At last, we have decided on a title for the App. It had to be one that transposes over to future projects, so there was much discussion about the matter. With it being published  in 2 weeks time we finally decided on 'Self Defence Made Easy'. The publisher has done a marvellous job and we're extremely pleased with it. There are other projects in line, so fingers crossed that this one does well.

I also submitted 2 short stories yesterday to a new market, Ether Books, namely A Connoisseur Of The Bizarre and A Whole Bag Of Worms. As mentioned before, while I've been known to wander off the beaten track most of my work remains firmly entrenched in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Connoisseur is the latter, a horror story - or ghost story, if you prefer - a genre I love. Maybe it was the years spent reading Stephen King, Brian Lumley, James Herbert, or even the countless editions of the Pan Book of Horror that I used to relish so many years ago - who knows. The odd thing is I rarely know what's going to appear when I sit down to write, the words just flow and then I have a story. Worms was like that, a Science Fiction story of domestic abuse and racism. One that made me raise my own eyebrows and ask, 'Did I really write that?'

To my delight, however, Ether Books loved them both and are going to publish them on their social publishing platform. This is aimed at people who use mobile phones, iPads and so forth. An ideal platform for someone like myself who is so interested in the digital media. The publishing date is set for around 2 weeks, so more to follow on the subject then.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Digital Markets For The New Writer

Has the promise of the e-book lived up to our expectations, and is there a gap in the digital market for new writers? I interviewed Dan Witters to find out.

Do you think the advent of the e-book has fulfilled our initial hopes?
I think that we’re all a bit disappointed, because what we thought was going be a new market has fallen victim to a similar set of rules that the traditional publishing market had imposed upon it. The key to print or digital copy is: how do we draw people’s attention to this book? We thought the stumbling block would remain with the traditional publishing industry, as they carry such high costs. It’s understandable that they can be choosey, because first they have to do a print run and then store it; you have to get it out to the shops, the costs of returns and so forth. We thought the digital market would remove all that because the cost of getting work up digitally is fairly low. But the point of constriction has shifted from the publishers to the bookshop equivalent, which is the digital platform on which the work gets sold. So while it’s relatively inexpensive to convert a novel, or other writing, into digital format it’s very expensive to maintain the platform on which it’s sold, and certainly not everyone can do that.

My experience has been that the people doing this aren’t interested in taking too many risks and there doesn’t seem to be a maverick element out there saying ‘I’ll take a chance on this’. You always have the small or niche publishers, particularly with things like poetry, who might say ‘look we’ll take a chance on this and put out 200 copies just to see where it goes’ and I’m struggling to find the digital equivalent of this.

I’m trying to build within one or more of the major platforms for selling e-books as an area for new authors and trying to find ways in which I can build on that. The cost isn’t great, but the art is going to be to convince the people within those platforms to support it. It may be that I can overcome this first hurdle quite easily and get a range of new authors up there; but the second hurdle, and no-one has the answer to this at the moment, is how does one get that work known? If we market it as a group, trying to get it known that we have this particular site with new authors on, then that may work; rather than trying to market individual books. It would still only be scratching the surface of the market of new writers and it isn’t a terribly satisfactory answer to the many individual writers asking who are all asking, ‘How can I get my book out there for sale?’

Another impediment is that to sell your book online you generally need a credit card payment, or some sort of financial transaction, which is controlled. So you then have to bring in the banking systems and regulations of who’s authorised and who’s trusted to manage these transactions; who has the right firewalls to prevent people from hacking in to get the credit card details, so that the new writer can quickly get their book converted into digital format and on the market. So in a sense you can question whether we’ve moved forward much at all.

Are there any big names that are actively supporting you in this endeavour?
Not that I can disclose at the moment, but we are in negotiation with two of what will be the larger ones who are going to be independent of the Google and Amazon types and I think that we can parley a way into having an area of their sites that could be dedicated to new writers. I’m very keen to do that, but what I can’t guarantee is that I will be allowed great volumes of writers, so in effect I’ll just be scratching the surface.

I also can’t get a guarantee that I will be able to achieve comprehensive marketing of these that will translate into big sales figures. Now, the very effect of having an e-book up there is that it may allow the author to do their own marketing, the basic thing of friends and family who will buy copies from a viable and recognised site. All of those things are worthwhile goals but I doubt whether this will translate into sufficient sales, which will allow someone to make a living out from it.

What advice would you offer to such authors at this exact moment in time?
The first and most important piece of advice is to get someone to edit your work. The most difficult thing to explain to a new, and enthusiastic, author is that no matter how good you are you still need editing. I quite often read well established authors with a very wide sales circulation and you can see that they have taken the trouble early on in their careers to be heavily edited; but then you also see someone who has ten or so novels published and when you read one you think, hmm someone should have edited this.

At each stage of everyone’s writing there’s a need for editing. That’s a very hard thing to convey to a writer, who often feels that you’re interfering with their creative process and just don’t understand where they’re coming from. It’s absolutely essential. No one can sit down and write their novel, or collection of short stories, as it should be. Everyone needs to be edited and I really can’t stipulate that enough.

The second thing is that you’ve got to find something that keeps you apart from other writing styles or subject matter; something that makes you stand out from the crowd. There’s a vast amount of new writing out there simply knocking on the door of publishers trying to get their attention, and I mean extremely good writing.

I recently read the six finalists in a writing competition that was held in a very out of the way place. There were three hundred or so entries and all six of the finalists, who were of a very high quality, deserved to be published. Had they written that work thirty or forty years ago they would have been published instantly. The person who won the prize did get published but the others were sadly thrown back to their own resources.

This just goes to show that writing is a highly competitive field and there’s a vast amount of good work out there. As a writer you’ve got to persevere and keep going, no matter what. Often you put an enormous amount of work into a book and it’s knocked back, which results in your feeling quite deflated. You’ve got to put that aside and write a second and better book, then a third which is better still. A writer needs tremendous determination and I feel that this is where good editing comes in. You get the corrections you need from a good editor but you also get encouragement. Someone who’s pointing out the good aspects of your work that needs to be developed but also indicating the aspects of your writing that are defective. There’s a comment by Samuel Johnson to the effect that, ‘if you go back through your writing and find something that you particularly like strike it out’. That’s typical Johnson and is an overstatement, but there’s a real danger that you can get attached to your own writing and lose the detachment you really need. It’s very important to be objective and detached.
If you’ve gone through creative writing courses you’ll find that there’s usually an aspect where they’ll discuss this, perhaps with former tutors and other people who write. Usually, if we search around, we’ll find someone who will give us an objective overview of our writing. Marry that up with the sheer determination to be a writer and just keep going. Arm yourself with the countless stories of writers who’ve had thirty or forty pieces of writing rejected before they got published. But here your concern is what the digital world is going to do for the new writer and I wish I had a more uplifting message. I do think that the digital world is going to get better as time goes on, easier than the old print world but there are still major blocks to get past.

Are there any specific fields or genres that are doing particularly well in the e-book industry, compared to others?
I think that novels are still predominating and I feel that writers should give serious consideration to short story collections. These are starting to be taken up by the e-book format, and this goes for poetry too. This may give you more options. A novel takes so much commitment; you’re taking yourself out of the market for six to eighteen months and that’s a long time.

If you’re going to hone your skills as a writer and try and to get some results there is some advantage, whether you are a short story writer or not, to writing a few short stories. This way you can test the market by targeting specific magazines; you’re not spending eighteen months working on a novel which isn’t going to get anywhere. A friend of mine has just finished a novel that’s taken ten years to complete. That’s a large slice of your life and then it can be a real knock back when you find that you can’t get it published. Quite often you can learn the same lesson writing a couple of short stories and hitting the publishing market with those. So, it’s a good thing to start with a modest ambition and write two or three very good short stories. It’s a writer thing to say that you write novels and short stories aren’t what you do, but anyone who can write good novels will be able to write short stories.
I think it’s a very good discipline to work and develop ideas for shorts. There are more markets for those, and I think someone with short stories published will certainly stand a better chance of getting a novel published; and there’s nothing to stop you from doing the two things simultaneously. You can certainly be writing a novel and getting the short stories out at the same time. You’ll find that it’s an easier entry point into publishing and in particular the digital publishing world.

Can you imagine a time when companies such as Kiwa Media would look at taking royalties from a book, rather than charging a writer up front, considering the relative potential income as opposed to the writer’s relatively small initial outlay?
Without question. We previously discussed the example of Harry Potter and Bloomsbury, which shows that there are niche markets out there such as science fiction and children’s fantasy writing. There are areas where there’s enormous potential. In particular the children’s market is enormous. I think that people in my position are going to be very interested in someone who has an original and potentially extremely successful idea. Even if what they have done with the writing so far isn’t sufficient I, personally, would be prepared to work with someone like that and see if you can improve the writing and make it better.

We prefer to work with someone who takes corrections onboard and is open to suggestions. So, in answer to your question, yes absolutely; because the cost of putting work up digitally is so low it would be well worth us saying, ‘look, there’s a cost but we’ll share the sales’. But this is not something that you would do until you’re satisfied that the work has potential and then we’re back to stage one aren’t we, knocking on publishers doors. No doubt I will be saying the same judgemental things that the traditional publisher did, but it’s something I’m very interested in. I would sound a warning note that I would be very selective too.

Kiwa Media’s focus has previously been on the children’s, or young adult, market and the public sector, such as schools. Are you now starting looking at publishing novels and short story collections yourselves?
There’s a group that I’m working with called the Firsty Group, who are looking to move into a leading position with regard to e-books. They are certainly much more receptive than anyone else that I have dealt with and I’m going to continue working with them. I feel that they are going to be a big player in the market and I’m going to try and develop an area there for new writers. Firsty Group is a digital publisher in the wider sense, while Kiwa is more of an app producer. Our role in the world is to go to publishing houses and convert their titles into apps. Firsty Group are a company that really interest me and who I feel are going to do extremely well. They’re expanding rapidly and they seem to know where digital books are going. It’s companies such as these that the new writer needs to be researching.


You cannot imagine my delight yesterday when I learnt that not only had I passed my MA, but I did so with a distinction! To say that I'm over the moon about it is an understatement, and I owe my deepest and heartfelt thanks to the tutors at University College Falmouth - in particular Susannah Marriott, Helen Shipman and Andrew Wille. I was also pleased to hear that so many of my close collegues had also passed.

Following close upon the heels of 'The Man Who Wasn't There' is another short story, 'A Whole Bag Of Worms' - one I'm very excited about. It has more levels than a multi-story car park and there is still so much to do with it, despite the limited wordage.

I saw a very interesting post of KarinCox's blog this morning, entitled The Writer’s Toolbox: Some Literary Devices to Enhance Your Work. For those who haven't read it, do. It's interesting and useful; one of those pieces that you read and reread, to ensure you've drummed it all home. You can find this here:

It's fascinating to realise just how much there is to learn about the fine art of writing, and how few steps I've taken along this long and winding path.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

This Week In Writing

This week has been extremely busy, working on promoting the first App through as many mediums as possible. We've had a mention in the April Edition of Martial Arts Illustrated, as well as in 'The Author's Showbox', here:

I've heard that University College Falmouth are going to run a press release, but intend waiting until the App is actually out there before doing so. Then, the night before last, I heard from Dan, who's based in New York, that we've had funding approved for the next three Apps, which as you can imagine is brilliant. But, as they say, all good things comes to those who wait. For even once we've actually done all the work and these new Apps are up for sale (which will be many months, yet) we first have to first claw back the money paid out in advance to fund it before we get anything ourselves; so it's very unlikely we'll see anything from these endeavours until at least the end of the year - and I hope to be well enough by then to go back to work, this time as a full time writer.

Following my change of mode back to short stories, to fulfil my Orbiter Obligations, and the birth of 'The Man Who Wasn't There', I had an idea for a second short story - and I love the concept.

Sometimes these ideas appear in dreams, other times you can see something and a story will just pop into your mind. Well, with this one, I was writing down the things that influence me, or inspire my writing. I was in the process of talking about people in the past, and how little different they were then to ourselves now; so how different will the people of our time be to those in the future? Quite simply, they won't. The only things that will change is what's around us, tools and inventions, new diseases and variations of disasters, tyrants and crime.

It was while in this melodramatic mood that the idea for this new story struck me, and I remained beavering away until silly o'clock this morning; and it's still not finished. But there's a deep and savage delight when you have a great story between your teeth and you continue to worry away at it until you end up with a satisfactory product. That's the whole thing about writing, it comes from the heart. It's like giving birth to a child. It need nurturing until it reaches maturity, and when you can watch with pride as it makes it's way out into the world.

I was also pleased to hear that the film reviews I've done for MAI have been taken on board. My feature on Buakaw Por Pruamuk, a world class Thai Kickboxer, on his part in the film 'Yamada' has already been published in April's Edition of MAI - and is already sold out, despite it being only the 17th Of March! My interview with Thomas DuPont, Nicolas Cage's stunt double in the film 'Justice', has been accepted for the May issue - as has a feature of Grand Master Mike McGavin - and I have a great many more lined up.

This Wednesday 21st March is the day that the final marks for the MA are due in. Whether we will hear then or have to wait a while I have no idea, but like many of my fellow students I think I'm going to have disturbed nights thinking about it. But, on the bright side, there is always my writing to crack on with, if sleep eludes me.

The Pro's And Con's Of Writing For Free

New writers often write for free to build a name for themselves, but while it’s nice to have a long list of publications behind you to impress agents and publishers, how does this affect the people trying to make a living from their writing? I spoke to Dan Witters about this in the 4th of our 5 part series.

Dan, how do you think this affects current writers, as editors may become reluctant to pay if new writers are writing for free?
That’s true up to a point. There’s nothing on the published material to show that a writer has provided this work for free, so you can certainly build a profile with it. I just think that you should set yourself a limit and not do more than a few. Otherwise it will become a habit that editors will take advantage of. There is a definite advantage for new writers to do this but not excessively. Editors do tend to believe that there’s an endless stream of new writers out there who will write a large part of their content for free, rather than just the occasional article. These editors can just select what they need from this constant stream of work and use this as a replacement for their paid writers.

There’s obviously a conflict of interest between the writer who hopes to get paid for an article and one who does it for nothing, so that they can raise their profile. These interests are diametrically opposed.

Some markets, such as martial arts magazines, have become non-paying. Is this something you’ve noticed?
No I haven’t but there’s definitely a risk of this happening. You’ve given the example of martial arts magazines and presumably there was a time when that was paid work. But here, there was such an influx from enthusiastic amateurs that this has now moved into an area where it’s very difficult to get paid at all. As you mentioned, this has a knock-on effect later when writers who have been working for free find that they’ve shot themselves in the foot. Why would an editor pay you when previously you had been working for free?

So, what can you do? Writing here in the UK isn’t a unionised profession, whereas in the US you see writers striking from time to time to put pressure on television studios. There’s some headway made occasionally, but even there you often see writers breaking rank and conducting work when no one’s aware of it. It’s very hard to see how unpublished new writers can take action; whereas published writers with a track record of working for television, can take some joint action. There’s very little contact between new writers, and there’s a vast group of them out there trying to get work. It’s almost impossible to see any concerted action that can be taken by writers against editors who take advantage of free writing.

I also think that the situation can vary depending on what type of writing you’re involved in. For instance, say you’re writing a short story. You can supply this for free, on the basis that there’s a footnote at the end of the story saying that it’s taken from a collection and then telling the reader where to find the rest of it. Consequently, if you’re writing for a magazine, then you have the chance to do some genuinely targeted advertising. Saying, not simply this is my name, but also that this is part of a short story collection, and if you like this one then go to my website. Likewise a writer of travel or lifestyle articles can have a note at the end of their work saying that he is a UK based travel writer and this is where my website is. This way, writers take a direct benefit of having the free work published. If you are going to provide work for nothing you have to ask yourself how you can get a tangible benefit from doing so.

Look at the chap who goes around saying that he’s just had an article published and he’s now building a CV. This guy needs to think about how he can focus his work. What you are trying to do is deal with two types of people, the first of which is the buying public. In this case you need to show the audience how to locate the other work that you’ve done. The second type are editors of other magazines who might like your work and want to know how to contact you, with the intention of getting work from you themselves. I can’t see a magazine having any strong legitimate objection to having a writer’s contact details included at the end of an article or story. I think if you’re going to give free work to a magazine it’s reasonable to insist that, as you’re not being paid, you’d like this information included.
Then there’s the question of review. Most magazines publish letters that state how much readers have enjoyed the articles. So it’s quite common for there to be a follow on here from the article itself.

You asked me if I’ve personally seen many traditionally paying markets become non-paying. Well, take magazines that deal with online games as an example. These have a lot of teenagers and younger readers whose contributions are more commentary and review than anything else, based on their reaction to the games they’ve been playing. Therefore they aren’t doing this to make a living but actually reacting to the subject matter and this is exactly what happened to the martial arts market. People liked these areas so much that they flooded the magazines.

These days we’re trying to support app development, whereas the publisher is concentrating only on the printed word. A lot of publishers are trying to get a price for the app, which isn’t a lot below what they get for their printed work. There’s enormous pressure from the public to get anything digital for free, which obviously drives down the price that editors will pay. So, what we’re seeing here is becoming a trend. This is a different industry from e-book conversion. What we now have is a magazine that can be downloaded free, because the publishers can get their revenue from the advertising contained within the app.

Other apps are often given out free because the publisher makes their money from the weekly, or monthly, add-on. The purchaser isn’t making these distinctions, or even asking themselves how the publisher’s making their money. People don’t understand that certain downloads are free because of the advertising, whereas other apps don’t have advertising and so can’t be free.

You were also talking about keyboard slaves: writers who produce work for free and make their money from direct sales from their own sites. I think you’ve hit on a real threat there. Magazine publishers who move into the world of apps are under pressure to provide free, or very low priced, downloads and they will automatically try and get their content for nothing to compensate for this. Consequently, the consideration for acquiring your article suddenly becomes an intangible thing. The publishers might say, that this will give you exposure and thus build your profile. This way the currency that moves between editors of magazines, publishers and writers ceases to be a tangible currency like money but becomes a currency such as profile.

Do you think this will cause the standard of writing to drop?
If you have a trend towards unpaid writing the standard of writing is going to drop. If you want an analogy for that, think of the conflict between newspaper journalists and bloggers. Journalists have an enormous resolve to investigate issues properly, whereas bloggers tend to just do online research and then offer their opinion. They might not be concerned about fairness or accuracy, simply because they aren’t going to be sued or even held to account by a press association. So, as the public tend to turn to blogs to get their information this can create a problem. Journalism isn’t particularly viable now, and if independent bloggers are going to replace journalists the quality of the reporting we get declines considerably. There are major blogs like the Huffington Post who often have the same standards as newspapers, but many other blogs don’t. It’s the same with magazine articles. Unpaid writers certainly have their moments of quality, but generally the new and unpaid writer will provide a lower standard than paid-for writing from established writers. I think there’s a danger of an assumed quality of the market dropping off.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

This Week

This week I've continued concentrating on 'A Cull Of Lions', the follow on to my novel 'The Roar Of Lions', and also my YA novel. It's interesting writing two novels at the same time, because when you hit a wall with one you can turn to the other, and before you know it ideas start flowing again in the former. I was adverse to this at first, then I had a flashback to an online chat I had with Kevin J Anderson, an amazing author who wrote one book of his 'Saga Of Seven Suns'  (Saga Of Seven Suns) each year, along with another of the continuing 'Dune' series with Brian Herbert, who's furthering his father Frank's work. Then, when I thought about it, I realised that I'd been writing several things at once for many years - so why should novels be different? In fact, it works extremely well, and it's something I would recommend.

I've also written several film reviews for Martial Arts Illustrated and had an interview booked yesterday morning with Thomas DuPont, stunt double for Nicolas Cage in his film 'Justice' - which is being released on DVD later this month. Alas, as sometimes occurs, this went awry at the last moment and the phone interview didn't take place - I'm hoping though that this can be done by other means, but we will have to see.

I've also written a short story, 'The Man Who Wasn't There'. This has an interesting twist on the old concept of invisibility. I've submitted the story to a magazine, who are interested in inventions and ideas, and now it's back to the old waiting game. This is the first short I've written in a long while, as I've been determined to build my experience in other areas, such as novel writing.

In a little over two weeks I will hear whether I've passed the MA and I'm now considering what to do next, whether to concentrate solely on my current projects or to improve myself further. Decisions, decisions. But whatever happens I'm finally doing the thing I really love, writing.

Publishing One-Stop-Shop

Have you finished a manuscript? Edited it? Just want to get it out there without fussing around with agents and publishers? Nothing could be easier. I talked to Dan Witters of editorial service Dancing Tree Productions about publishing with Firsty Authors, from uploading your manuscript to making sure the world knows your book exists.

Dan, tell us about Firsty's Author’s Package.
The idea started with an approach to Firsty Group to see whether they could come up with something that would benefit unpublished authors; giving them the chance to get their work published, initially digitally, and also to give them some sort of platform from which to negotiate with print publishers. Firsty had a look at what unpublished authors ideally need and came up with their Author Package.

First you upload your e-book onto a WordPress website, which they create for you. It’s very easy to use and maintain. The first e-book is free and there’s a very competitive charge for subsequent books. You simply upload your work and it’s automatically available for sale on your new website, which has a plug-in to Firsty’s e-commerce site which allows you to take credit card and PayPal payments. This is a huge thing for most people, as the ability to take payments online is a very difficult thing to arrange. Even established businesses struggle getting permission from banks to do this and yet it’s included as part of the package.

Within about a week or so the book will be uploaded onto both Amazon and the Apple iBooks store. Again, if you try and do this yourself you’ll find it very difficult, particularly because Apple tend to give precedence to people uploading large volumes. So, unless you’re uploading a large quantity of books at once you’ll go through quite a slow process. My feeling is that e-books sales are increasing, particularly in America, and I think that it’s going to be increasingly important for all authors to get their work out in e-book form. Publishers seem very slow to understand this.

With this package not only have you got all the above, but also a series of guidance to locating various people and services. This includes cover art, photographic illustrations and editing services. Every writer, whether published or not, needs to be edited.

Firsty has made a list of everything that an unpublished author would need and has provided that at the cheapest price possible. At the moment this is £495. For this you get the full package including website, your first e-book created and uploaded plus the e-commerce facility. You’ll have gone from having a book, which no one wants, to having a website with your book for sale on it; in addition to Amazon, the iBook store and various other stores. This is an extraordinary jump for someone to make in a matter of days.

Do you think that this is the way ahead for publishing?
Absolutely; you see all traditional publishers get hundreds of books sent to them which they send out to readers for assessment and they have to rely on these readers. The fact is that there are some great authors out there who just keep getting rejection slips and over the years these authors simply vanish.

Publishers are turning away people they shouldn’t, as due to the structure of the publishing system it’s very hard to get their full attention. If someone joins Firsty’s website they’ll receive suggestions on how to expand their sales through various marketing techniques. You get three-monthly sales reports, from which you can determine not only how many you’ve sold, but also where you sold them through. You can also check daily the sales that have been made on your website, or on Firsty’s e-book store Firsty Fish. Publishers work on the premise that you’ll sell a lot more in print (although I think that this is about to become a flawed assumption) so they’ll be quite impressed if you can show them you’ve sold this many books electronically over a three month period. Particularly if you can say I’m also selling in the States and Canada etc. By putting the sales sheet in front of them you’re no longer saying ‘do you or don’t you like my book’, you’re saying ‘people love my book and they’ve demonstrated this by paying £5.00 or £8.00 for it’.

Bookshops take about 50% from sales of printed copies. Then there are costs such as printing, distribution and so forth, plus the publisher takes around 15% of the sale price which doesn’t leave much for author. With the Firsty system the person who handles the sale will take between 20% and 30% of the price, which means that 70% or more goes to the person who actually wrote the book. In the traditional market a writer will get anything from 50p to £1.00 per book that sells, whereas if you put an e-book up at £5.00 on your site you’ll actually get close to £4.00 per copy. Consequently a single e-book sale might be worth more in monetary terms than a number of print sales and I think that this is going to become increasingly attractive to authors.

It wouldn’t surprise me if authors soon put their print books through a traditional publisher but reserve their e-books rights and handle this side of it themselves, through their own websites and a system like Firsty’s. This way they’ll be getting the vast majority of the income generated from these sales.
Once you’ve got a digital site and your book is up there you might need an App developed, as either a promotional thing or a follow on to the book itself. Firsty

Won’t the E-book market become swamped, and if so how can we make our book stand out?
That’s definitely going to happen, because what you have is a bottleneck as far as how many books are out there. In the print market this is controlled by the publishing companies, who get literally thousands of books referred to them. So which do they chose and why? We’re now looking at a situation where, for the cost of a couple of hundred pounds, authors can get their books out there. This leaves us in the situation where suddenly there are thousands of e-books available and it will be increasingly difficult to bring yours to the attention of a traditional publisher.

Firsty has done quite a lot of marketing research. They might say, for example, sit down and make a list of all your friends. Go through your email addresses, Facebook or other social media and say to everyone, ‘look I’ve written a book and it’s available on Amazon’. If the book’s priced right most people will buy it, particularly if it’s priced at £1.00 or £1.99. It won’t be hard to ask your friends to download it and see what they think.

From there on it’s just a case of looking at your book’s content and thinking about marketing opportunities. I’ve just edited a memoir for a man who worked in the merchant navy and who’s a member of a merchant navy association that has over 70,000 members. I’ve shown him how to draw it to the attention of those members through websites, newsletters and meetings. This gives him a potential market of at least 70,000 people who’ve probably had similar life experiences and might be interested in his book. These are the sorts of tactics that Firsty’s developing to provide a package to authors, to make a bigger noise than the e-book that’s for sale next to you.

How does someone go about setting a target price for their book?
You have to balance two things: whether you need the income today or whether you’re trying to build your profile while you have a daytime job. If you’re in the situation where writing is something you’re doing as a supplementary income, or you’re building it for your future, then you’ll probably be able to price your book at the £1.00 to £1.99 range, because there’s a big book buying public out there who will happily spend up to £2.00 for your book and not be too concerned about it. If you need to live on the income then you’ve got to consider whether you can increase your price to £4.99. If you have a potential sales market of several thousand then this could become a significant income. However, if it’s a specialist subject then perhaps you can go up to £8.99. I’m very sceptical about the ability of e-books to go past the £9.00 barrier. I think if you do that people will struggle to see the justification because they’ll know that with hard copy there are margins that have to be made by the publisher and bookshops and that that pushes the price up.

There’s a very low tolerance in the e-book market. Once you go past the £9.00 mark people will know that you’re getting £6.00 or £7.00 per copy, which you’d only be getting for a £30 plus book in the shops. So, you have to decide where the book fits into your lifestyle. If you’re looking to get your name established and prove you can sell, then my advice is to stay down at the £1.99 level. If you need the income from it then I’d say price it around £4.99. Only if you believe that you have something exceptional should you go up to £8.99, but there’s little justification to go beyond that.

Can you see student textbooks moving heavily towards this market?
I think that this is a huge market. At the moment it’s controlled by hard copy publishers, but I feel that soon there’ll be a move by writers who produce good textbooks to approach schools and say, ‘Everyone has to be particularly conscious of costs at the moment, particularly students, so here’s a digital textbook I’ve written on this subject. It’s available at my site for £1.00, as opposed to the £20.00 for a university textbook’. This market’s wide open for such material and there’s going to be fierce competition from e-books here over the next few years.

How long would it take an author to get his e-book up onto the major selling sites?
If you approached Firsty on a Monday, and signed up with their Author Package, you’d probably have your website operational and be selling books on your site and Firsty’s by the end of the week or at worst the following week. It would be available for sale on Amazon and the iBook store soon after that.

What about the writers who want their sales to go through the websites they currently hold?
Very few people have an e-commerce resource that allows them to take payment on their sites. With Firsty’s Author Package you not only get that, but you also get digital rights management and protection against digital piracy. Your own website can be made compatible with Firsty’s, which is specifically designed with WordPress so that it can be bolted on to an existing website. So, if someone asks if we can adjust their own site, so that it works in the same manner, then the answer is yes we can.

You touched briefly on promotion, saying that Firsty will be rotating the books. Would you say that most of the promotion will be down to the author themselves?
It’s a joint thing because Firsty has an interest in selling the book. They’ll get their percentage through sales from their website. If sales go through Amazon then Amazon will take the percentage there. But it’s in Firsty’s interest to see these sales turning over, so they’ll be looking at books on an individual basis to see if there is anything that they can do to promote them.

They’ll also be maintaining their website, so that when it opens each day different books are given prominence alongside well known authors. Firsty will also be looking at ways to direct traffic to their site. So when people are putting effort into their own marketing Firsty will be doing the same, also making suggestions on how sales can be increased. It’ll be comforting to know there’s a large corporate entity behind you.

I understand that you’re offering an editorial service.
Yes, I have an editing company called Dancing Tree Productions. A lot of people who have written for the first time don’t appreciate how everyone, from published authors onwards, needs to be edited. We get too involved in our own writing and tend to miss flaws that a good editor will catch.

What Dancing Tree Productions will do is read your book in its entirety and give you a close line-by-line sample editing of the first thirty pages or so. We’ll then give some general comments on the strengths, weaknesses and areas you might develop. This will give you a pretty clear idea of the extent you need editing. Most people are horrified when they see these thirty pages, the syntax, grammar and spelling mistakes or little idiosyncrasies. We charge a nominal fee for the preliminary look at the book and if someone wants us to edit it completely then we’ll quote for that. We provide a reasonably full service and will work with the author towards getting introductions to publishers, giving recommendations from ourselves. So people can come to us for a preliminary or thorough assessment, or even a complete hand holding where we work with the writer from the inception of the idea to negotiation with a publisher.

How can people contact you?
Through our website We’ve got some excellent editors and have three editing services under the one Dancing Tree umbrella. For an example of the website you get with Firsty take a look at Nun The Wiser. Further details are available at Firsty Authors.
Dan Witters runs editorial service Dancing Tree Productions and you can email him directly at:

Reproduced with the kind consent of

Sunday, 4 March 2012

New Writers And The EBook

What do digital formats offer new writers? It's easier to get published, no? I quiz Dan Witters from Kiwa Media, who makes e-books and apps for major publishers and indie authors alike, in this second of five interviews.
I write short stories, Dan, so what can the e-book format do for me?
E-books are extremely cheap - most people producing e-book conversions are doing it for about £100, which is well within the reach of new authors and freelance writers who might be concentrating on short story collections. But the people uploading the e-books to sales sites - and I don’t just mean the big ones like Amazon or Google - are reluctant to take work that hasn’t already been published in print format.

Traditionally both publisher and writer would have hoped to see a financial return from published material after publication costs. Then came e-books and the cost of publishing suddenly vanished. Unlike in traditional publishing, there are no print costs with e-books. No publishing, storage or insurance costs. Transport costs don’t exist and there’s no returns cost either, so the expense associated in actually producing an e-book is minimal. Logically, therefore, you would have thought this would make it much easier for new writers to get published.

This isn’t the case then?
Well, you can get your book completed in e-book format easily, but the question is who will host the sale? The costs incurred by the e-books sales sites are considerable, bearing in mind the level of expertise and technical knowledge required to set up, administer them and take online credit card payments. So while it originally looked like the e-book was going to sidestep the traditional publishers' cost-based objections to taking on new writers, the hosting sites have now become their digital equivalents, saying, “No, I don’t want that unknown book that doesn’t have tested sales figures”. Many e-book hosting sites now stick to churning out e-books from traditional print publishers because they know they will make money. And so we’ve come full circle.
OK, so its up to me to make people aware of my digital book then. How do I do that?
That’s a good question; it’s the biggest single problem in this area. Traditionally you could simply walk into a Waterstone’s, or any other good bookshop, and have the opportunity to see and buy a good selection of quality books. But how do you do that with an e-book or app? We recently released an excellent app from one of the world’s biggest publishers. The voice-over is done by an extremely well known actor. You’d think that these components, combined with a historically bestselling title, would ensure a good take off , but the app hasn’t sold even moderately well. Why? Because of the issue you just raised - how do you let people know it’s out there? E-book publicity is a huge issue.

On the other hand, I’m currently working with a group of people from a TV show that has a very high profile and therefore is attractive to newspapers. That’s what’s needed to get this kind of product selling. Because of the TV show, newspapers are always happy to run an editorial on the product. It’s what they are increasingly looking for.

When newspapers cover the e-book or app, sales boom, but as publicity dies off the hits on the website die off too, as does the advertising drawn to it. Therefore any newspaper with a pay wall is receptive to any ideas that will increase hits on their websites. If you have an app featuring a well known celebrity, whose TV show is in vogue, it’s extremely easy to get coverage on newspaper websites and thus it sells well. These days high quality high content apps are much harder to sell than less sophisticated content based around a celeb.

So marketing is crucial, not to mention extremely difficult. In this new industry we’re all working on ways to get better viewing of our apps and constantly thinking up tricks to get people’s attention. Such ways of working are largely outside the reach of a new author. Even if you did get your e-book up on someone’s site, how does this site direct people’s attention to your product? We’re still in the very early days and simply haven’t found anything that will get a new writer to the attention of the buying public.

So it's up to me as the new writer to think in new ways, too?
Yes, because we all have to contend with the sheer volume of stuff up there. When apps move, as they most certainly will, to the Android and probably Windows MS platforms - not to mention the new generation of touch-screen computers - the amount of e-books and apps available is going to be more incredible still.

We all have to think about how we draw people’s attention to sites that host books. Google does this very well, as does Amazon. They rotate books across their home page and that gets people looking at them time and again. Those are well established print books, though; we’ve been trying hard to get such sites to set up areas to promote new art and writing from new authors. I’m suggesting to these people that they see it as an obligation to take on new writers, because the next Harry Potter is out there somewhere. It’s important that new authors somehow get to the public’s attention.

Reproduced with the kind permission of