Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Reassemble or Be Damned (or how humpty-dumpty publishing should be put back together again)

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Last week PC World ran an online article entitled, Why Book Publishing Needs the Silicon Valley Way, by Mike Elgan. There is a great deal in this article and Elgan’s basic premise is that the current model of publishing—by which he means traditional publishing houses—is broken and it is now time for publishers to look to Silicon Valley and adopt their approach and apply it to the publishing industry.

“The reason is that the industry is clinging to an obsolete business model. And the whole process of discovering new talent is broken beyond repair.

Like the book publishing industry, Silicon Valley is in the business of cultivating, nurturing and funding intellectual property. The difference is that the Silicon Valley approach works, and the book publishing industry's doesn't—at least not anymore.”

Elgan goes on to describe the book industry as ‘unique’, and at their essence, ‘a publisher is above all an investor’. There are plenty of industry analysts, consultants, journalists, bloggers, self-published authors who were rejected at the gates of Eden or simply chose from the word go to give the established path to publishing the two fingers—happy that the publishing industry is broken and its funeral march is just around the corner.

I’m not sure I would go along with many naysayers in describing publishing as ‘broken’ or that the ‘whole process of discovering new talent is broken beyond repair’. Elgan seems to be specifically addressing the New York publishing establishment, and if there is one thing we have learned over the past ten years, it is that the publishing machine is made up of many complex parts, and right now, few of those parts are working well together. Publishing is not so much broken, it’s disassembling itself in a very public manner. In so doing, it’s showing itself to be a machine that has pretty much worked the same way for several hundred years.

Let us not forget that some of the oldest and most established publishing houses started out in the book industry as printers, where the production and publication of a book was much more of a co-operative effort between author and printer/publisher. For a printer, the quality is in the paper book as a physical product. For a publisher, the quality is the intellectual content of the paper book. The whole publishing machine was built on the foundation that the paper book was sacred. Digitalization in the publishing industry has for the first time challenged that core belief. This is a major sea-change for publishers—akin to the first explorers discovering that the earth was round and you wouldn’t fall off the edge if you pushed your boundaries of belief. So publishing at its core hasn’t really changed from its inception—and it’s hard not to understand an attitude of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it’.

“Much like a Sand Hill Road venture capital firm, a publishing company plays kingmaker by discovering, guiding and, above all, investing in the right talent.

Sure, publishing companies employ brilliant book designers, editors and others who collaborate to produce high-quality products. But they don't have a monopoly on those skills. Any author can hire great book designers, editors, printers, marketers and everyone else in the creative chain. What most authors can't do is invest $150,000 to produce and market an untested book. Ultimately, the ability to invest -- and the experience and wisdom to invest wisely -- is the only uniquely valuable thing about publishers.”

In many ways, Elgan—certainly for me—is not describing modern publishing houses, and I think, in a roundabout way he acknowledges this. He is describing publishing as it was 30 to 40 years ago, when large publishers were still prepared to take a risk with a new author or unproven author—happy for a period of time to pass while they invested and worked with the author until they wrote ‘that book’ which broke them into a large market. It might take publishing two of the author’s books, or it might take five books. This approach rarely happens with large publishing houses now, certainly not without the active presence of a dedicated literary agent. The ‘business of cultivating, nurturing and funding’ may exist in Silicon Valley, but it does not exist inside the doors of large publishing houses. Those tasks were long pushed out to literary agents, and if the truth be known, many of those agents would probably say their time is far too restricted to spend cultivating and nurturing authors. Literary agents, like publishers, want a good marketable book as close to final publishable product as possible from the get-go.

Elgan describes the Broken Model as he sees it: (The bold is mine)

“Here's how book publishing is supposed to work: Joe Author decides to write the Great American Novel. He bangs out a couple of chapters in his spare time, cobbles together a polished book proposal and goes hunting for a literary agent. Most real agents are maxed out with clients, but after six months of dedicated searching, he finds one, who then spends weeks or months shopping the proposal to major publishing houses.”

I’m not sure book publishing ever really did work quite that way. From my experience, no literary agent or publisher today would bother looking at a synopsis, three chapters and proposal submission for a novel unless they knew the book was actually completely finished by the author.

“The result of this disconnect in the talent discovery system is that the quality of books is declining fast.”

I agree with Elgan here, but, and it’s a big but, quality is entirely subjective. Someone is still buying those celebrity and template-driven books churned out by publishers.

“Browsing a bookstore is like picking through trash in a garbage dump looking for something of value.”

I’m not sure where Elgan is doing his browsing, but I’d suggest he try another store, perhaps some of the independents. Ultimately the retailers still hold a great degree of power over the publishers, and their buyers decide what goes on the shelves, but there is no doubt, certainly in the large retail chains, that inventory lists are shrinking fast, and it is only the sure-fire sellers that get premium space.

“And that's why the industry is dying. The content is skewing toward trash. The public is becoming less enthusiastic about books not because they have other diversions but because books are becoming less exciting.”

I know the point Elgan is trying to make here, and I equally sense his passion as well as his frustration, but there are more books being read now than ever before – more books being published than ever before, but the combination in a recessional downturn, deep discounting, the ludicrous returns policy operating today in the publishing world doesn’t help matters, and ultimately, it has led to profit share being squeezed everywhere. Fundamentally, I disagree with his assertion that the public are becoming less excited by books – the real problem is going to be the acceptance of the fact that there will not be any significant growth in books as paper products anymore – it’s going to become a diminishing circle. The ‘diversions’ are actually the key itself to the future of publishing and the ability for publishers to identify and harness the mediums and platforms of those very diversions.

Remember, the book is no longer intrinsically a physical paper product. Its strength is now it’s rebirth as a piece of digital content – capable of dissemination into a multitude of delivered channels. Publishers need to acknowledge they are going to have to do what they did hundreds of years ago when they moved from being simply printing presses to being publishers. Now, the real adjustment and challenge is for them to alter their models of business and move from being publishers to providers of ‘content’ products – be that digitized or paper. To be fair to them – that’s a very big challenge.

The real question here when the dust settles is the core of Elgan’s concerns about ‘discovering talent’, and who the remit will lie with. Elgan pretty much answers the question when he says that if Silicon Valley worked the way publishing does, we would never have had Google, Facebook and Twitter. He is right. And there’s the answer. The single most fundamental reason books sell remains word of mouth – personal recommendation. Networking platforms are simply the modern road word of mouth has advanced to.

Here is how Mike Elgan believes publishing should work if it follows the nod from Silicon Valley:

“Every new author would forget about seeking an agent or an advance, and instead self-publish. This is what software and cloud-based start-ups do: They use their own money -- and the inexpensive tools available -- to build something on the cheap before they go asking for outside investment.

New services should emerge where authors could post links to their books, with samples, commentary and opportunities for reader reviews. A Digg-like voting system could surface the most popular titles.”

If you substitute the opening word of the above piece, ‘Every’ to ‘Many’, then you are pretty much describing things as they stand now. All of the above is happening and new as well as established authors are going directly to services like Lulu, CreateSpace and Lightning Source – cutting out much of the middle-men in between them and their readers. They are using publishing platforms and online communities like Smashwords, Wattpad, Fictionwise, Amazon Kindle, IndieReader, and many, many more.

“Meanwhile, authors would try to get meetings to pitch to the publishing companies. Agents, rather than reacting to authors beating down their doors, could instead act more like sports agents and go out and hunt for new talent using Web 2.0 tools and the Internet in general to find brilliant authors.”

I think the above piece reflects what most fundamentally needs to change in publishing – agents. As more and more authors reject the gate keeping policy adopted by the publishing industry, agents may decide to be happy with their lot and deal exclusively with established authors and lucrative deals. Alternatively, for the first time, they may actively seek the higher quality independent authors and work for them, or act as scouts for the larger publishing houses and independent publishers. We may quickly approach a time where there is no such thing as a midlist author. You are either a full time author earning a reasonable living with an established publishing house, or you are publishing independently and contracting services, be it agent, editor, designer or distributor.

“If authors get their own deal, they could use that fact to attract the best agent, whom they would need as a guide and as a negotiator of the contract.”

There is a mindset here Mike Elgan is inadvertently challenging. I’ve always believed that the publishing industry has a kind of attitude – almost a class structure – ‘this is the way it is and has always been done’. That has to change, whether publisher or agent, survival and earning a crust will always be the great leveller. Publishers will have to accept that just because there is more ‘self-published crap’ out there, flooding ‘their industry’, the books they publish should in that case stand head and shoulders above that ‘crap’. They are easily achieving that now, but in five years, independent authors may very well have the knowhow, platform and network to easily rival them. In a few notable cases, it is already happening now. Agents will have to accept, more and more, when they enter a contract with an author, it is the agent who is working for the author, and not the other way around.

Mike Elgan concludes his piece by presenting some suggestions as to what he believes publishers should do. I quoted a lot from his article because I happen to think it one of the most significant articles I have read on...well...if you like, the future of publishing. I think it is clear, I don’t agree with all Mike’s points and conclusions, (yes, I think advances should go, but I still believe in the basic fundamentals of established publishing houses, and the death knell is not sounding just yet.) though, Mike Elgan might prove me wrong if it all goes tumbling down.

Here is why I don’t think it will.

Many of the people operating small presses, author solutions services, independent publishers with new models of business, came from the belly of the beast itself. They got out, or were spat out, for a variety of reasons. Maybe some of them really were breezing it, and hadn’t a clue what they were doing from they off. But the fact is, there is a vast wealth of talent in the publishing industry. Some of them are starting to do it within the beast itself, and many others have kissed the beast goodbye and prefer to do it on their terms and their chosen model. What is clear to me is that no one model will win out. No one has it right or wrong. We are entering a time when a whole host of publishing models will suit the needs of author, publisher and reader alike.

Publishing is not broken by a long, long way, but the key is how we disassemble the components of the machine and reassemble it all back together without forgetting the core elements that make it work.

This is no longer a question of how publishing really works, but rather, how it now needs to work combining all the components of publishing, all that the established fraternity have learned and all the independent and self-published fraternity have learned. To believe that one doesn’t need the other and the two cannot exist under the one umbrella of the publishing industry, is to speak ignorance and write the words of your own publishing demise.

[This was a general free-flowing article and I have deliberately avoided few links, citations and references outside of Mike Eglan’s PC World article.] All quotes used are copyright of PC World.
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Sunday, 24 October 2010

One Stop Self-Publishing Conference 2010 - Review (Part Two)

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The afternoon session of the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference began with a keynote address by Benji Bennett, author and self-publisher of Before You Sleep, the first of a series of books inspired by Adam, his four year old son he lost as a result of a brain tumour. If there is one thing Benji Bennett’s keynote address underlined—it was not so much about a message about self-published books—rather that books can be a celebration of what we hold dear and believe in.

Benji Bennett announced his good and bad news about self-publishing:

“The good news is; self-publishing can be the easiest thing in the world to do...but the bad news is; you won’t sell many books!”

Again, Bennett repeated the mantra for the day; self-publishing is a business, and you have to use professionals, and be prepared to work hard and promote your book. Bennett used the award-winning Cartoon Studio to design his first book, and he felt the key to his success was achieving proper distribution and using a PR agency.

John Manning is director of Gill & Macmillan Distribution and he explained the importance of book distribution in Ireland and that they have currently 45 publishers on their lists. In his experience he believes publishers want a one-stop distribution service, and booksellers want as few different accounts as possible to deal with. Again, like Adrian White from Dubray books, he is open to listing and distributing self-published books of quality.

Catherine Ryan Howard went to work for a year in Disneyland and decided to write a book called Mousetrap about her experience on her return. She talked about the power of social networking at the conference. I don’t know of anyone more bubbly and infectious to talk about the subject and the importance of networking for self-published authors. Catherine created Catherine Caffeinated, her blog, and used CreateSpace to publish her book. If anyone couldn’t be encouraged or inspired to start a blog or create a Twitter or Facebook account after Catherine’s informative piece, then, frankly, they never will!

From my own experience of social networking, the key is that networking allows a writer to being locally within their own community of friends, but very quickly expand beyond that into communities who might otherwise never have heard of you or your book. The real beauty and success of network communities as a tool of promotion and reaching your potential readers is that you are often only once or twice removed from the people you really want to reach out to and connect.

Eoin Purcell ended the conference with a look at digital publishing, and I would highly endorse his recommendation that Smashwords as a starting point for any self-publishing author is a pretty strong starting point because of its distribution reach (Kindle, iPad, Nook) and opportunities on a whole host of digital sales platforms. His only bedbug with Smashwords was that every book carries the company’s branding. Personally, that shouldn’t be a problem, as such, for an author new to self-publishing, but while branding may not matter early on, it can be critical further down the road. Whatever we feel about the online powerhouse that is Amazon, Purcell noted:

“The Amazon Kindle in 2006 gave ebooks real identification and also created the connection and discussion on cheaper pricing.”

In Ireland, ebooks remain in their infancy, and it is still impossible to really measure the market – that is – how many people are buying ebooks in markets outside of Ireland? Purcell pointedly and rightly hones in on a very important factor on this side of the pond.

“The Amazon Kindle Euro Platform may very well kick-start the real sales of ebooks here.”

I certainly hope the One Stop Self-publishing Conference returns next year, larger and with more of an international flavour to it. The efforts alone of its organisers this year should make it an annual visit for many.
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Friday, 22 October 2010

Novelist Dermot Bolger to Launch National Novel Writing Month at Irish Writers' Centre

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From the Irish Writers' Centre press office:

The Irish Writers’ Centre is delighted to welcome award winning poet, playwright and novelist Dermot Bolger to the Centre on Friday 29th October at 2pm to kick-start National Novel Writing Month 2010. They are awarding 12 contestants the opportunity to participate in a free 2 hour Novel Writing workshop with Bolger. They will then be opening up the centre to the 12 individuals Monday to Friday for the month of November, offering a writing space and facilities. Interested parties are invited to send an email or letter to the Irish Writers’ Centre with 100 words stating why they believe they should be chosen to participate. The Centre encourages aspiring and established writers to partake. The winning candidates will be chosen by a panel of judges made up of staff members and tutors of the Irish Writers’ Centre.

Submissions should be sent with contact emails and telephone numbers to info@writerscentre.ie

Closing date: 26th October 2010

For more information about National Novel Writing Month visit:

The Irish Writers’ Centre is a non-profit organization, run by volunteers, that promotes contemporary Irish literature. Since its foundation in 1991, the Centre has welcomed many award-winning writers through its doors, including Nobel, Costa, Man Booker, IMPAC, and Pulitzer Prize winners. It has also served as an important platform for breakthrough talent, with many young writers giving their first public readings here.

Contact details:

Helen Fahey - Press Officer

Tel: +353 1 8721302

Fax: +353 1 8726282

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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Xlibris Launch Writing Coaches Service

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Xlibris Publishing has launched Xlibris Writing Coaches - a new publishing service aimed at mentoring and aiding self-publishing authors through the creation of a manuscript from conception through to completion and book design.

From the press release:

This newly added publishing service will bring the author to a step-by-step process of creating a book from conceptualizing ideas and developing characters to editing and completing a manuscript with the help of a writing coach. All Xlibris Writing Coaches are professional, published authors in their own right and experts at their craft. They have extensive experience teaching, editing, and coaching other writers, from beginners all the way to experts, on honing their manuscripts and craft.

Choose from the Xlibris Writing Coach Packages below to take you from your book's opening sentence to a professionally finished book-store quality work of art.

A 2-month coaching program for writers with the time and confidence to move quickly through their manuscript and publish a book with simple design requirements.

A streamlined coaching program similar to the Xlibris Writing Coach Advantage, offering more sophisticated book design options and includes a hardback edition.

A 4-month coaching program that will hone your writing skills and provide you with 180 pages of professionally crafted material, allow you to publish a first-class book and initiate your marketing campaign.

A 6-month mentoring program providing you with the key to the craft of writing, culminating in a 300-page manuscript and customized publishing services enough for you to publish and market the book of your dreams.

Learn in months what takes most writers years to learn. For more information on self-publishing or marketing with Xlibris, visit www.Xlibris.com. To receive a free publishing guide, please call (888) 795-4274.

There is more explaination on the Xlibris website. Note my own blue colour emphasis that I think authors should be fully aware of before the sign up for these services.

How it Works: You choose which Xlibris Writing Coach Package works with your budget, timeline and manuscript goals. Fill out a simple form telling us about your project and we will partner you with the best coach possible. They will telephone you for the initial consultation, introduce themselves, clarify and concretize your concepts for both your manuscript and your overall goals. At scheduled intervals you will send them pages and they will respond with a written analysis of your writing’s strengths and weaknesses as well as concrete suggestions on ways to improve your prose and the overall narrative.

Additionally they will analyze several pages of your manuscript line by line. They will “fix” sentences and explain how and why these changes improve your story. This manuscript review is not a copyediting service and does not specifically address grammar. Rather, it teaches you the craft skills required to produce a polished piece of prose.

At regularly scheduled times you will have coaching calls and a final telephone conference to complete your manuscript. By the end of the coaching term you will have a completed, edited and revised manuscript ready for publication through Xlibris.

Is it just me, or does this above piece not contradict itself? If the manuscript review is not a service that addresses corrections of grammar, then I'm struggling to see here how an author is going to end up with a manuscript 'ready for publication', and at prices ranging from $1999 to $8999, I would certainly expect that on the two high end packages. I'm really in two minds about the true value for money authors are getting here. 
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Monday, 18 October 2010

One Stop Self-Publishing Conference 2010 - Review (Part One)

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The first One Stop Self-Publishing Conference was held in Ireland last Saturday at the beautiful Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, perched on Killiney Hill and overlooking the east coastline of County Dublin. Billed as ‘Everything you need to know to get your book into print professionally – in one day’, this was always going to be an information-packed eight hours of speakers and sessions. Event organisers and hosts, Eoin Purcell and Vanessa O’Loughlin, were quick to point out that they did want to avoid ‘information overload’, and as well as each attendees ‘physical pack’ received during registration, a subsequent information email would be sent out, which would include back up information and further resources.

What strikes you about an event like this is the variety of people attracted to self-publishing – from all walks of life and age groups. It was also notable from talking to some of the attendees there, quite a few had already embarked down the path of self-publishing – some had already published several books, and you sensed they were there as much to learn and perfect the process of self-publishing, as they were to soak up new information and resources they could harness for their future endeavours.

In Eoin Purcell’s opening welcome address, he was quick to point out that publishing, as an industry, is in a state of great change and faced with many challenges, particularly digitalisation and pricing. He set the tone for what would become a consistent mantra from many speakers throughout the day.

“Self-Publishing is taking charge of your book. Publishing is a business, and you’re selling a product...”

There can never be truer words spoken about self-publishing, and aside from the nuts and bolts of producing and printing a book, the sales and marketing of that product are absolutely critical. It’s the one area so many self-published authors underestimate, and often they only start to think seriously about it when they look at the pile of books in the garage or spare bedroom.

I’ve written about the success of self-published author A.J. Healy elsewhere, and reposted that article again yesterday on the website, so I’m just going to focus on Healy’s sedentary points of his keynote speech.

“Send your book out to people who have no link to you for feedback.”

Healy actually had his book placed with a literary agent in London, and like so many authors who get a similar break; he thought he was finally in the door of the publishing world, but three years passed by and nothing happened. It was then he decided to self-publish. As a children’s author, he wisely used school kids as his tester audience to perfect his book, and still does with his subsequent book when he was finally signed up by Quercus in the UK.

Some further snippets of advice from Healy:

“I wouldn’t recommend going the way I did with a printer in China – it’s just difficult with the language and distance.”

“Avoid the ‘delusion’ factor. Before you start out – ask yourself, why do you want to self-publish?”

A session on on the editorial process of publishing followed, from the perspective of mainstream publishing as well as for self-publishers with Patricia O’Reilly and Sarah Franklin. Sarah Franklin took us through the process a book goes through at a mainstream publishing house and how the editing process works. Again, the emphasis was on the fact that self-publishing like mainstream publishing is a business, and you must make your book the best you can. That can only ever be done by using professionals—editors and designers—to prepare your book for publication.

For Patricia O’Reilly, an author and editor, she chose to move from mainstream publishing to self-publishing for her last book and would consider it again for her next book:

“I would consider self-publishing for the next one – I liked the control – if something went wrong, I knew it was my fault.”

There was eagerness by the event attendees to ask plenty of questions, and it was clear as each speaker presented their experience of self-publishing, particular when Patricia O’Reilly and A.J. Healy delivered their pieces. It struck me that in many ways every author brings with them their own unique experience of self-publishing, the ups and the downs, successes and failures, and authors considering self-publishing warm to that personal aspect in a way that doesn’t seem to exist with mainstream authors. I suppose when you attend a session with a mainstream author – the natural attention is on ‘the book’ as opposed to the process of publishing that book.

Eoin Purcell briefed the attendees on the important consideration of which print option to use. As former commissioning editor and publishing consultant, this was a key choice for a self-publishing author. POD (print on demand) was ideal for authors who might want to simply print a book for family and friends, or did not require many books ‘up front’. Digital Short Run printing would suit an author looking to print maybe a few hundred copies, while traditional offset printing was something only to consider if your envisaged reasonably good sales (1000+).

Claire McVeigh, a freelance book designer now, has worked with a number of leading Irish publishers, and she joined Eoin Purcell for a session on the process of book design and presented samples of her work over the years and some book design terminology and what self-publishers should look for if they wanted to publish a quality book product.

The marketing session gave the attendees a real eye-opener into the bookseller’s world and their perception of self-published books with Dubray Books, Adrian White. Sarah Franklin joined the panel as well to focus how to target your reader audience and the importance of an author putting together a viable marketing campaign and all the components that go with making that successful. The real insight and what sparked a great deal of audience discussion was White’s perspective as a bookseller. The attendees were effectively face to face with someone they might have to impress further down the line when they self-published their book. White pulled no punches, and conceded, that yes, he gets lots of self-published books sent to the Dubray buyer’s office, and sadly, yes, many of the books on offer (Advance Review Copies) for shelf spacing are of poor quality – lack of editing and proper trade cover design. He did equally point out that with restrictions on shelf space in the retail trade; they reject books even from some of the largest publishing houses.

White said Dubray remain open to self-published authors, and do stock some self-published books, but only when they are impressed by the product, the reviews of the book, and that the book has a genuine chance of sales. One of the attendees I spoke to at lunch took White up on his offer and presented his book for a quick product review. I asked him later how he got on and what White had said about his book – he quipped back, ‘Let’s just say I’ve some revisions and reprinting to do!’ All in all, it cemented the early mantra – self-publishing is a business. No matter how uneasy you may be about it - your book is a product. You have to make it the best you can, and if making it the best you can to reach the serious market place means commissioning professionals to help you do that, then, do it.

Sarah Franklin explained that there are usually two waves of publicity for a book. Six months before a book comes to publication, and a second wave should begin about three months after a book’s publication date – right at the time booksellers will consider whether to return any unsold copies on their shelves. I’ve always believed that self-publishers should not be dissuaded from aiming high; so long as they remain realistic, but their marketing should begin at a local level where they may be better know. Getting your book stocked in local bookshops can strengthen the chance of getting it into the larger chains like Eason.

The sponsored session of the event was delivered by David Jones of TAF Publishing, an Irish author solutions service based in Dublin, providing a full range of self-publishing services, from editing, design, printing and sales and marketing. This was the first time in the event we really discussed service companies, and the attendees could see many self-published books at close quarters. Jones did concede that breaking into the brick and mortar retail trade was hard, and of the thirty books on their list, but, yes, a few of them have made it into one of Ireland’s flagship retailers, Eason. We would hear a lot more during the afternoon sessions about the challenges of getting a distributor for your self-published book and getting ultra important shelf space.

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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Self-Publishing Successes - Tommy Storm by A. J. Healy

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(I'm re-posting this for those who attended the Onestop Self-Publishing Conference - AJ Healy was a guest speaker. This was a piece I did on AJ in September, 2009) 

Most people would not turn their back on picking up a regular pay cheque as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, but then, Alan Healy is not most people. It certainly is the kind of dream job, wage and lifestyle many people would dream of. Alan Healy doesn’t dream about investments and fractions. In truth, he never did. He has had his share of the good life and the big bucks, but he has also had his share of berries and cheap beer in his adventurous lifetime. He’s packed a lot into forty years of life.

At three years of age, when most of us just mastered walking, talking and realising food was something to eat, not wear, Alan James Healy had attempted a drugs overdose on baby asprin and crashed the family car into the garage. This kid was on a mission. His Dad left the family home when he was five, and he became the ‘man of the house’. Following two school suspensions, he finally calmed down and studied commerce at UCD in Dublin. Despite all this, he concedes that he did actually enjoy his school years, and clearly, while he may have been filled with wayward genes, something within Alan James Healy was astir. It would be some time before he truly discovered what lay beneath the surface.

Healy spent more than eight years of his life after college globetrotting around the world, taking in places like the USA, Australia, England and South Africa. He worked for Goldman Sachs in London as an investment banker earning ‘immoral’ sums of money for two years before those wayward genes and early stirrings inside him returned. Something was missing. He headed to South Africa where he hatched an entrepreneurial venture to start a brick factory to supply the building of local houses. During this venture he escaped with his life after being held at gunpoint during a robbery, and during the tumultuous times of the mid to late 1990’s, he had his house set on fire and one of his truck drivers shot a fellow worker. The bricks just didn’t quite work out and eventually he ended up back home in Dublin. Suppressing an inner urge for something more to life, he gave venture finance a few more years before finally giving it up in 2002. Following the 911 terrorists’ attacks in America, and the start of a global economic wobble, Healy finally listened to his heart and those deep stirrings inside.

He had always promised himself when the time came, he would write that book. From a teenager, he wanted to write and avidly read C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Sherlock Holmes. Even the school curriculum of Dickens and Shakespeare had found a place deep inside of him and sowed the seeds he was about to reap. From an early age he had always wanted to be a writer but when he was leaving school in the 1980's, jobs and money were hard to come by in Ireland, he felt it would be an indulgence for him to go straight into writing. He also thought he should gain some life experiences and skills before thinking of making a living from writing. He just never quite figured on the life adventure he would have.

Alan James Healy wrote his first novel when he was 26 during a time of travel and adventure. He insists it wasn’t much good and he filed it away in a drawer. By May 2002, he wrote a completely new novel which he called Tommy Storm, a children’s science fiction novel with moral and global undertones. Healy began the path all new authors undertake by submitting his novel to mainstream publishers and agents and endured countless rejections.

“I rang one agency to ask were they accepting manuscripts and they just sighed, said ‘Not today’ and hung up on me. So I changed tactics. Typically you would think of the self-published author as going for it as a last resort, but it was like leaving Goldman Sachs – I thought, do I want to hang around for another two years? Maybe I can be my own publisher?”

In 2006, he decided he would publish Tommy Storm himself, knowing little of what lay ahead. Healy, with grounding in finance and business had the basic organisational skills, doggedness, and importantly, friends and family who were willing to support his new direction and re-born passion in life. He wanted what he had always wanted to do—to be a full-time writer. Healy chose to take on self-publishing in its true form, set himself a budget of €10,000 and just about managed to keep within it. He would take the responsibility of typesetting, editing, printing, marketing and distributing his book himself. He decided against using an author solutions service, and instead negotiated a print deal of 5000 copies from a printer in China. Healy contacted friends with kids and proceeded to cycle around Dublin visiting these kids to read to them and hear what they thought of his book.

It was like making a beautiful pair of shoes and finding someone that would fit them perfectly. I got all these great letters back from the kids with really detailed explanations of why they liked it and where they thought it might be better.”

Ultimately, Healy managed to shift and sell 3000 copies of his novel. A chance meeting with an editor in 2007 resulted in a copy of the book being sent to the desk of an editor in Quercus Publishing in the UK. Slam-dunk! Quercus, unlike other publishing houses, liked the idea of this quirky novel for kids with its madcap humour combined with moral and global questions for generations to come, that also had a wide appeal to adults in general.

The success for Alan Healy continues. He has written and published the sequel to his first novel, published by Quercus, called, Tommy Storm & the Galactic Knights. We wish Alan all the success in the future. His story demonstrates that self-publishing can turn into success, but once again, there is an underlining theme that it goes with business acumen as well as incredible belief and perseverance.

Some snippets on Alan J. Healy’s books.

Brilliant. Hilarious. An intergalactic Gulliver's Travels - Declan Kiberd, UCD Professor & Media Journalist. 

Tommy Storm is a knockout achievement that succeeds on so many levels and satirises so many cultural and literary genres that, to me, it reads as if Flann O'Brien had taken to writing science-fiction - Tony Hickey in Village magazine

His latest book:
Earthling Tommy and his four Milky Way friends are Galactic Knights - on a mission to save the Universe from pending destruction. Time is running out and the knights have many challenges in their way: they face the dreaded Beast of Hellsbells, must resist the allure of fame on an intergalactic gameshow and escape the deathly intents of the sherbet-addicted Nack Jickelson and the suicidal Chocolate Terrorists. All the while evil mastermind A-Sad-Bin-Liner is planning to unleash his plot of mass destruction and Tommy will be forced to choose between his friends and his ambition, between the universe and his own life.

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One Stop Self-Publishing Conference 2010 - Review to Come

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Great day at the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference in Dublin. The highlights for me: AJ Healy's journey through self-publishing, Benji Bennett's deeply personal experience, and the wonderful, bubbly and positive Catherine Ryan Howard's experience of social media and using CreateSpace to publish her book on working in Disney, Florida . Full review of event to follow. Thanks to Eoin and Vanessa for putting the event together.
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Friday, 15 October 2010

Amazon Hit Out at Agency Model Pricing on eBooks

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Amazon UK has released its first official statement on the Agency Model agreement they signed up to with publishers. Amazon UK say that like the US Kindle market, sales of books by publishers operating the Agency Model have 'slowed', though once again, Amazon are short on actual figures and make no mention of the recent arrival to the ebook market of Apple's iPad and iBookstore.

The statement was posted to the Kindle forum yesterday. Here it is in full:

Dear Customers,

Recently, you may have heard that a small group of UK publishers will require booksellers to adopt an "agency model" for selling e-books. Under this model, publishers set the consumer price for each e-book and require any bookseller to sell at that price. This is unlike the traditional wholesale model that's been in place for decades, where booksellers set consumer prices.

It is indeed correct that this group of publishers will require Amazon and other UK booksellers to accept an agency model for e-books. We believe they will raise prices on e-books for consumers almost across the board. For a number of reasons, we think this is a damaging approach for readers, authors, booksellers and publishers alike.

In the US, a few large publishers have already forced such a model on all US booksellers and readers. You can read the thread we posted about that change here:

As we're now faced with a similar situation in the UK, we wanted to share our thinking and some details about what we have observed from our experience in the US.

First, as we feared, the US agency publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster) raised digital book prices almost across the board. These price increases were not only on new books, but on older, "backlist" books as well (in the industry, "backlist" books are often defined as books that have been published more than a year ago). Based on our experience as a bookseller setting consumer prices for many years, we know that these increases have not only frustrated readers, but have caused booksellers, publishers and authors alike to lose sales.

There is some good news to report. Publishing is not a monolithic industry - there are many publishers of all sizes taking a wide range of approaches to e-books. And most publishers in the US have continued to sell e-books to us and other booksellers under traditional wholesale terms. They make up the vast majority of our Kindle bookstore - as a simple proxy, in our US store 79 of 107 New York Times bestsellers are priced at $9.99 (£6.31 GBP) or less, and across the whole US store over 585,000 of 718,000 US titles are priced at $9.99 or less.

Unsurprisingly, when prices went up on agency-priced books, sales immediately shifted away from agency publishers and towards the rest of our store. In fact, since agency prices went into effect on some e-books in the US, unit sales of books priced under the agency model have slowed to nearly half the rate of growth of the rest of Kindle book sales. This is a significant difference, as the growth of the total Kindle business has been substantial - up to the end of September, we've sold more than three times as many Kindle books in 2010 as we did up to the end of September in 2009. And in the US, Kindle editions now outsell hardcover editions, even while our hardcover business is growing.

In the UK, we will continue to fight against higher prices for e-books, and have been urging publishers considering agency not to needlessly impose price increases on consumers. In any case, we expect UK customers to enjoy low prices on the vast majority of titles we sell, and if faced with a small group of higher-priced agency titles, they will then decide for themselves how much they are willing to pay for e-books, and vote with their purchases.

Thank you for being a customer,
The Kindle UK Team
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One Stop Self-Publishing Conference 2010 - Killiney, Dublin

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I will be attending the first self-publishing conference to be held in Ireland this weekend - The One Stop Self-Publishing Conference at the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel in Killiney, Dublin, hosted by Eoin Purcell, editor of Irish Publish News, and Vanessa O'Loughlin of the Inkwell Writers' Workshop will present a multitude of sessions and speakers on of self-publishing.

I will provide a full review of the event early next week. In the meantime, for any last minute authors based in Ireland, who wish to attend the event, go here.

The full event programme:


09.00 – Registration
09.15 – Welcome From Conference Organisers, Eoin Purcell & Vanessa O’Loughlin
09.30 – Overview – What Is Self-Publishing (Eoin Purcell)
09.45 – Morning Keynote By A.J. Healy Author of Tommy Storm
10.30 – The Editorial Process (Patricia O’Reilly and Sarah Franklin)

11.15 – Coffee Break

11.45 – Getting Your Book In Print
12.15 – Publicity & Marketing (Sarah Franklin & Adrian White)
12.45 – Sponsor Presentation

13.00 – Lunch

14.00 – Afternoon Keynote By Benji Bennett Author & Publisher of Before You Sleep
14.45 – Distribution & Retail (John Manning of Gill & MacMillan)
15.15 – Social Media & Online Marketing Keynote Address (TBC)
16.00 - Digital Self Publishing (Eoin Purcell)
16.30 – Conference Closing Address (Eoin Purcell & Vanessa O’Loughlin)
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Thursday, 14 October 2010

IndieReader Invites Essay Submissions for New Title

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IndieReader is inviting contributions for a forthcoming book of essays entitled, “The Care & Feeding of Indie Authors: Writing, Sex and Ramen Noodles“.

From Amy Elderman of Indie Reader:

I wanted to give you the head’s up that the folks at IndieReader are compiling a book of essays (800-1000 words) by indie writers entitled, “The Care & Feeding of Indie Authors: Writing, Sex and Ramen Noodles“.

Our motivation in compiling this book is to give indie writers a place to share their stories and to let them know that there is no one way to be a working writer.

We’d love it if you could share the info with your readers. If you (or they) are interested in contributing, they can reach out to me at the email below for the list of topics.

We’ll be accepting submissions through November 31st and will publish the best 35-40 essays in a book early next year. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to a literary-related charity.

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Little Quiet of Late? | Administration Message For Visitors to POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing

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Another last reminder, in case visitors here have been wondering why it is a little quieter than normal. Many of the daily news stories, links and feeds posted each day, have now been ported across to the Facebook page, where you are all very welcome, and can enjoy lively comments and opinions on publishing. I will of course continue to post in-depth articles, features and service reviews here on POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing.

So, come on over if you haven't already...
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Amazon Kindle Singles Coming Soon to Kindle Store

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Amazon today announced that the digital ebook service, 'Kindle Singles' will be arriving to their retail platform soon. The novella-sized ebooks will have their own section in the Kindle Store and will be aimed at ebooks between 10,000 to 30,000 word length (30 to 90 pages approximately). 

From the Press Release:

Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century--works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

"Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format," said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. "With Kindle Singles, we're reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we're excited to see what they create."

Like all Kindle content, Kindle Singles will be "Buy Once, Read Everywhere"--customers will be able to read them on Kindle, Kindle 3G, Kindle DX, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, Mac, PC, BlackBerry, and Android-based devices. Amazon's Whispersync technology syncs your place across devices, so you can pick up where you left off. In addition, with the Kindle Worry-Free Archive, Kindle Singles will be automatically backed up online in your Kindle library on Amazon where they can be re-downloaded wirelessly for free, anytime.

To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact digital-publications@amazon.com.
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Monday, 11 October 2010

Ingram Content Group Sign Agreement with Springer

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The Ingram Content Group has signed an agreement with global scientific publisher, Springer, for their new integrated distribution service model. The signing of the deal follows a similar agreement Ingram made with Macmillan last month.

From the Press Release:

Ingram Content Group Inc. and Springer today announced a new integrated distribution services model that combines traditional physical book fulfillment with single-copy print-on-demand solutions for Springer’s entire Americas publishing program.

Starting in the first quarter of 2011, Ingram Content Group will fully manage warehousing, fulfillment and print-on-demand for Springer using the new model. Ingram will hold Springer’s entire US inventory and as it sells down, Ingram will transition titles to print-on-demand when it makes the most economic sense. All fulfillment will come through Ingram.

“Working with Ingram is part of our continued and ambitious move to focusing on what we do best: providing high quality information for the scientific, medical and professional communities. This agreement allows us to better serve our users and readers by combining physical and digital book distribution, thereby shortening the time to market,” said Eric Schmitt, EVP Customer Service, Fulfillment, Logistics at Springer.

As the need to invest in the future of content in its many forms becomes increasingly important, publishers are facing resource decisions unlike any before. They are exploring new ways to operate and shift investments once used for the cost of warehousing and returns to developing the most innovative content. By strategically combining traditional print publishing with virtual inventory and print on demand, Springer can concentrate its energy and resources on the future success of its company while assuring its authors and readers that its high quality content will always be widely available, also in print.

“At Ingram, we are reinventing the traditional publishing business model with forward-thinking publishers like Springer,” said David “Skip” Prichard, President & CEO, Ingram Content Group. “Ingram has continued to invest in the newest print-on-demand technologies, physical and digital distribution and worldwide market reach, so publishers can focus their attention on content creation, the foundation of their business.”

Mr. Prichard continued, “We look forward to working with Springer on the development of an integrated distribution model and helping their content reach more readers in more formats.”
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