Facebook competition winner and other suggestions

You may remember that there’s been a Facebook competition going on for a signed copy of RealmShift, run through the Facebook group, Book Lover’s Club. It started with this great review of RealmShift, then the Club asked people to suggest topics for me to blog about. The topic that I liked best would win a signed copy of the book.

There were some great suggestions and it was really hard to pick one. In the end I went with this suggestion from Alex Stoiche:

Id love to see his thoughts on writing for art or self satisfaction versus writing for a market. Obviously its a fine line and its crucial to please the audience to some extent, but Id like to hear an opinion on where it may go too far or about writers that have such conviction they won’t compromise.

I picked this one mainly because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and was considering blogging about anyway. Given that Alex’s thinking mirrored mine I decided to call that suggestion the winner. Given the number of other suggestions, I’m going to be using some of those for future posts as well, because lots of people came up with good ideas. Keep an eye on the blog here and your suggestion may crop up at some future date – I’ll be sure to credit the person whose idea it was as and when I get around to it. Don’t hold your breath, though. It’s a busy month for me and these things tend to get drawn out.

Thanks to everyone that got involved and big thanks to Book Lover’s Club for being such sterling supporters of books and authors.


New Age of Publishing – Guest Post 4 – Chuck McKenzie, bookseller

My posts about the new age of publishing continue apace. This time I have a post that I think is awesome. Chuck McKenzie is a great guy and a personal friend. He’s also a writer but, more importantly in this context, he’s a bookseller. One of the traditional, old-school kind that sells actual paper books from a brick and mortar bookstore. His career depends on the continued success of the “old” publishing model, so you might find some of his views rather interesting. I agree with him on almost every point. Take it away, Chuck.

NB: the personal opinions expressed in the following post are not necessarily those of Dymocks Booksellers.

I manage a Dymocks store in Cheltenham, Victoria, and, as a traditional print bookseller, I’m often asked by customers walking in off the street whether we stock either e-readers or e-books. Most are only mildly surprised when I tell them that we currently don’t – ‘mildly’, because, after all, aren’t e-readers the natural enemy of the printed book? What tends to surprise these customers more is when I go on to tell them that at some point we certainly will be stocking e-readers, and that we’re currently in the process of seriously researching the pros and cons of what’s available on the market, and what products are likely to be released in the near future. The latter seems to be a source of surprise largely because most traditional booksellers still insist upon pretending that e-readers simply don’t exist, full stop.

To a certain extent, this reaction is understandable (if not particularly sensible): Change is scary. Change is also inevitable, and – especially where industry is involved – it’s vital to adapt to Change. Look at what happened within the music industry when downloads became available; the industry failed to move with the times sufficiently quickly, and suffered greatly as a result.

Likewise, e-reader technology is here to stay, regardless of how much the bookselling industry might wish it were otherwise; depending upon where you get your figures, anywhere from 10-20% of all purchases now made online are of books, with an increasing slice of that percentage being e-books. Why, then, does the bulk of the bookselling industry continue to ignore the issue?

There’s no simple answer to that. I suspect that the old attitude of ‘keep steady and everything will return to normal eventually’ has much to do with it; the Australian bookselling industry has just entered year three of an industry-wide recession, and traditional wisdom suggests that the drought has to break sometime soon. Problem is, the increasing popularity of e-readers – not the only factor affecting book sales at present, but certainly a growing one – is not an issue likely to evaporate once the current financial crisis ends. It is, again, a permanant change to the industry, and one that booksellers absolutely need to roll with in order to survive.

Which brings us back to the industry (and customer) perception that e-readers and printed books are natural enemies, and cannot be kept in shared enclosures.

To which I say: Bollocks.

It may surprise some to hear this, but I’m of the opinion that – certainly in the long term, and possibly even in the short-to-mid term – e-reader technology will be a boon to the bookselling industry, and not just to the e-book side of things, either.

Consider: while there are currently still issues regarding the availability and formatting of product for e-readers, eventually it will almost certainly be the case that any e-reader will be able to inexpensively access virtually any published work that has ever seen print, from ancient classics to the latest releases. Now, this may just sound like another way of stating that everyone will eventually download all of their book purchases, thus relegating traditional print publishing to the scrapheap of history, and certainly this is a concept that has seen a vast amount of discussion – both positive and negative – in recent times.

The one point that people almost always seem to ignore, however, when discussing the inevitability of the Universal Download, is that people like books.

Physical, printed books are something that virtually all readers – no matter how tech-savvy they are – seem to enjoy owning. Aside from the pure enjoyment of reading itself (which one can also get from reading off an e-reader, granted) there’s pleasure to be gained – for many readers – from the simple act of holding a book in one’s hand, the sensation of turning the pages; from displaying one’s treasured titles on a bookshelf for all to see, and being able to take a book down off the shelf to find that quote or passage that’s been eluding you. You can’t get an e-book signed by your favourite author, either (although I can see the possibility of alternatives: perhaps including a video function on a future e-reader that allows you to record a personalised message from John Scalzi or Peter V. Brett when you meet them).

So, if we take the line that printed books will endure in the face of burgeoning e-reader technology (if only due to the culture of nostalgia surrounding printed books), is it not still possible that sales of printed books will plummet as sales of e-books continue to soar?

I’m actually of the opinion that they won’t. Here’s my reasoning:

a) Yes, sales of e-books will continue to rise dramatically: no question about it. It’s even possible that people will eventually buy all their books in e-format (at least initially – I’ll explain in a moment). This increase is likely to be driven as much by the comparatively cheap pricing of e-books as by the (eventual) ease of access to and availability of product.

b) With the increase in sales of e-books is likely to come an increase in the number and quantity of titles sold. After all, with the $24.99 that you would traditionally have spent on the latest print-edition fantasy blockbuster, you can now purchase up to three (or more) e-books. [That’s $24.99 Australian dollars and yes, book prices in Australia are mental – Alan] And I don’t believe that book-buyers in general will spend less on books just because the cost of books is reduced by electronic formatting, either: rather – as in the case of downloadable music – if buyers have been used to budgeting a certain amount to purchase a physical product, they will continue to spend roughly the same amount on an e-format, with the ‘bonus’ of enjoying more bang for their buck. So: that $24.99 will now be used to purchase that same fantasy blockbuster, in e-format, plus two or three other titles that the reader would not have purchased had they been available only as expensive print editions.

c) So the buyer ends up reading more books overall. Now admittedly, some of these may be books that the reader wanted to read anyway, but would have had to wait to purchase (in print) for budgetary reasons; or they may have borrowed the less immediately-enticing titles from a library to read. However, it’s also likely that the reader will occasionally – again, due to the comparatively low price of e-books – be enticed to take a chance on buying titles that they simply wouldn’t have bothered buying in print; titles that look kinda interesting, maybe a little outside of the usual comfort zone, or that so-and-so recommended; classics that you’ve always felt you should get around to reading, but can’t be bothered potentially wasting good fantasy blockbuster money upon; small-press publications and pulpy ‘summer reading’. And so on.

d) Finally, BECAUSE THE BOOK-BUYER REALLY LOVES BOOKS, it’s almost certain that they will purchase an additional, printed copy of that fantasy blockbuster. The e-book will accompany them on holiday, on the train, to work, etc – but the printed version will have pride-of-place on their bookshelf at home. And odds are that at least some of the additional e-books purchased with that $24.99 – including those that the reader would never have bothered to read, let alone purchase, in printed format – will also be so greatly enjoyed that the reader will invest in printed copies also.

e) All of which means, of course, that people will actually be spending more money on books than they currently do. What will have changed, however, is that all ‘guesswork’ will have been taken out of the process of purchasing expensive printed books, since the buyer already will know exactly which titles they definitely wish to own in print. And people in general are rarely unhappy to invest more money in something if they know they wll be 100% satisfied with the outcome.

Are there advantages to e-readers over printed books? Hell, yeah! As someone with major eyesight problems, I’m all for ‘books’ that allow you to increase the resolution or contrast of the text, or even backlight the screen in a darker environment. And taking twenty novels away with me on holiday will no longer be the packing-space nightmare it is today. But advantages of new technologies don’t always push older technologies to the wall: DVDs haven’t yet destroyed the movie industry; CDs are still the preferred ‘form’ of purchased music in a world that has embraced the iPod; and remember when the humble PC was going to put us all out of work?

E-book technology? Bring it on, I say!

Chuck McKenzie was born in 1970 and still spends much of his time there. As well as managing a Dymocks bookstore, Chuck is a sometimes author of speculative fiction, a reviewer for HorrorScope (the Australian Dark Fiction Blog), and obsessive managing editor of the NecroScope zombie fiction review site. Only one of these roles pays the bills.


Pretty interesting ideas, huh? Agree, disagree or have a completely different opinion? Leave your comments below.


New Age of Publishing – Guest Post 3 – Mark Coker cross-post

In my continuing series of guest posts about the changing face of publishing, I couldn’t resist cross-posting this one. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, was recently interviewed by Jeff Rivera at MediaBistro. He was asked for his ten book publishing predictions for 2011. Mark said I could pick up the first five from his blog and I’ll link at the end to the rest of the interview. Hopefully we’ll get something more from Mark later in January in this series, but he’s a busy man. In the meantime, enjoy this one.

2011 Predictions for Book Publishing

Crystal BallIt’s annual prognostication time when folks like me stick out their necks and try to predict the future. I invite you to join in the fun. Brush up your crystal ball and share your publishing predictions for 2011 in the comments field below.

Earlier today, Jeff Rivera over at MediaBistro interviewed me for my ten book publishing predictions for 2011.

I’ll list five below, and then I encourage you to click over to Mediabistro for the full ten in his interview, Publishing Predictions for 2011 from Smashwords.

If 2010 was the year ebooks went mainstream in the U.S., 2011 will be the year indie ebook authors go mainstream. We’ve already seen this start to happen with some tremendous indie ebook author breakouts in 2010. I wrote about Smashwords author Brian S. Pratt a few weeks ago.

So here are five predictions for 2011:

1. Ebook sales rise, unit consumption surprises – Ebooks sales will approach 20% of trade book revenues on a monthly basis by the end of 2011 in the US, yet the bigger surprise is that ebooks will account for one third or more of unit consumption. Why? Ebooks cost less and early ebook adopters read more.

2. Agents write the next chapter of the ebook revolution – Agents, serving the economic best interests of the best-selling authors, will bring new credibility to self publishing by encouraging authors to proactively bypass publishers and work directly with ebook distribution platforms. Agents will use these publishing platforms for negotiating leverage against large publishers. The conversation will go something like this: “You’re offering my author only 15-20% list on ebooks when I can get them 60-70% list working direct with an ebook distributor like Smashwords or a retailer like Amazon?”

3. More big authors reluctant to part with digital rights – Indie ebook publishing offers compelling advantages to the author. The economics are better (see #2) and the publishing cycle times are faster (an ebook manuscript can be uploaded today and achieve worldwide distribution in minutes or days, not years). Ebooks also offer greater publishing flexibility (shorts, full length, bundles, free books), and the opportunity to reach more readers with lower cost (yet still higher-profit) books. The advantages will entice more professional authors to self-publish some or all of their future catalog, and all of their reverted-rights catalog.

4. Self Publishing goes from option of last resort to option of first resort among unpublished authors – Most unpublished authors today still aspire to achieve the perceived credibility and blessing that comes with a professional book deal. Yet the cachet of traditional publishing is fading fast. Authors with finished manuscripts will grow impatient and resentful as they wait to be discovered by big publishers otherwise preoccupied with publishing celebrity drivel from Snooki, Justin Bieber and the Kardashians. Meanwhile, the break-out success of multiple indie author stars will grab headlines in 2011, forcing many unpublished authors off the sidelines. As unpublished authors bypass the slush pile, publishers lose first dibs on tomorrow’s future stars.

5. Ebook prices to fall – It’s all about supply and demand. Demand is surging, but supply will overwhelm demand. Average ebook prices will decline, despite attempts by Agency 5 publishers to hold the line. The drop will be fueled by the oversupply of books, abundance of low-cost or free non-book content, influx of ultra-price-sensitive readers who read free first, fierce competition for readership, and digitization of reverted-rights and out-of-print books. Indie authors, since they earn 60-70% retail price, can compete at price points big publishers can’t touch.

Read all ten of my predictions in the full interview over at Mediabistro, and please share your own predictions in the comments below.


If that whet your appetite, please do go and read the rest. It makes for some thought provoking reading. There’ll be a few more of these posts throughout January and early February, so keep an eye open.


New Age of Publishing – Guest Post 2 – Moriah Jovan

In my ongoing end of year series of posts about the new face of publishing, I present a repost here of an article by Moriah Jovan. Following on from Angela Slatter’s post about her Smashwords journey, Moriah talks about the disappearance of the page as a concept. This post first appeared at B10 Mediaworx nearly two years ago. The revolution has been under way for some time.

A rose by any other name…

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the definition of a “book,” or more specifically, the proper formatting of an e-book, and the definition of a “page” and its importance in the New eWorld Order.

I’m here to tell you: Unless it’s on paper or in PDF, they ain’t no such thing as a page.

I’ll admit that it took me a while to get used to reading on my eBookWise. Between the whacked-out spacing and the left justification and the lack of paragraph indents, it looked…sloppy. Inferior. But I stuck with it and realized that each book is formatted differently; some are prettier and easier to read than others, but mostly not. I did, however, have problems even with the “prettiest” of the formatting. I was able to adjust my expectations of the presentation once I realized it was a function of the DEVICE and that the DEVICE was not a print book. The print book and the e-book simply have nothing in common except the words they contain: not headers, not footers, not design, not formatting, not…page numbers.

To use the “page” as common ground, each user must have the same edition of a paper book and/or the same edition of the PDF file, but that’s a fairly easy task to accomplish.

In any other format, however, it’s nearly impossible without each user having the same device, the same font settings (i.e., large or small), the same page view settings. Gentlemen, let’s synchronize our devices. Taking the probability of that into account, then, the concept of the “page” vanishes.

The latest argument I have seen for the need for strict pagination in e-books to approximate or duplicate that of a print book is for reference books and the uses of academia viz. for annotation and bibliography, tables of contents and indices, footnotes and end notes. What this demonstrates to me is ignorance or lack of vision or an inability to understand the vast differences in the format, and the capabilities and limitations of each.


quadWhen your bishop or your preacher or your pastor or your minister or other Protestant-type ecclesiastical leader gets up and wants everybody to flip open their Bibles, does s/he say, “Please turn to page 1436 in your Bible”? No. He says, “Romans chapter 15.” (Cause that’s where mine is. In the King James Version. What if you prefer to use a different version? No problem! Romans chapter 15 is still where it’s supposed to be, which is between Romans 14 and Romans 16.)

HamletWhen your English lit professor or your director or your acting coach directs you to a certain passage in a Shakespearean play, does he say, “Please turn to Hamlet, page 783”? No. (Well, first of all, he’s OBVIOUSLY working from an anthology if it has 783 pages to begin with.) He says, “Please turn to Act 2, Scene 2, Line 35.” So what this means is I was smart and brought my little bitty Hamlet and everybody else was stupid and brought their big fat anthologies. And it makes no difference whatsoever.

The two print books, Bible and Shakespearean anthology, have page numbers. But they aren’t referred to or necessary for annotation or bibliography. In fact, the only thing they’re used for is within the book itself to create tables of contents and indices. So let’s talk about that.


There’s only one thing a table of contents and/or index is good for: To find your place in the book. Thing is, in a print book, that’s the only way you can find anything…maybe kinda sorta quickly.

In an e-book, the tables of contents and indices have completely different purposes. In fact, an index isn’t even necessary in an e-book, although I would argue that a table of contents is. However, their function and mechanism of use are entirely different from that of a print book.

1. It’s called a hyperlink.

Now, don’t be scared. I’m sure you’ve seen them before here and elsewhere on the interwebz. You put your cursor over it and click and boom…you’re somewhere else on the interwebz. Cool, huh?

You can do that in an ebook, too.

A list of hyperlinks in the beginning of the e-book serves the same function as the table of contents serves in a print book. A print book has page numbers after the chapter name. An e-book has a hyperlink you touch with your stylus and boom, you’re there, same as it works on the interwebz. No page numbers? No problem! Not necessary at all.

But hyperlinks are good within the text, too. If a word is hyperlinked, you touch it with your stylus and it takes you to further reading. They used to be called “footnotes” and “end notes.” Don’t need those anymore, either. Oh, they’re still footnotes and end notes, but they have no precise structure because it’s not necessary. The device will take you where you need to go.

2. It’s called the “find” function.

You can’t do this in a print book. There is no CTRL-F. There is no “Find.” You go to the table of contents and/or the index and if you’re lucky, that book had an excellent indexer. If you’re not, well, good luck to you then. I’m going out to get some Chinese while you look for that reference. Want anything?

Is there an e-reading device that doesn’t have a “find” function? If there is, smash it and get something else, ’cause there is no point to an e-reading device without a “find” function. Because why? Because there are no page numbers.

If the argument (with regard to reference material) is that e-reference books can’t be annotated or bibliographed or referenced, there’s a simple way around that. Organize the book in some other fashion, a la the Bible or Shakespeare. It’s been done. The system’s only been around for a few hundred years now. If it ain’t on paper, it ain’t got pages.

And if it’s inevitable, just lay back and enjoy it.


Further interesting reading from Moriah can be found here: Book Design with Microsoft Word: The Art of Moriah Jovan on The Book Designer blog.