New Age Of Publishing – Guest Post 7 – Benjamin Solah

My series of posts looking at the changing face of publishing continues. This time I’ve got a post from Benjamin Solah. Ben is an emerging writer from Melbourne. He’s also a poet and activist. He’s been dipping his toe into the murky waters of publishing’s new world and writes a bit here about his experiences. For anyone thinking about following Ben’s path, there’s some sage advice to be found in this one.

Ben SolaheBooks have no doubt been a major talking point for writers and those in publishing and literary circles over the last year or so. But now, talk and speculation about digital publishing has moved toward action and I think we’re beginning to see more and more people adopt eReaders as a form of reading alongside print books, but not yet a primary form of reading. What methods people are adopting is varied and it would be impossible for anyone to predict what device or form is going to emerge as dominant, be it something like the Kindle, another eReader, iPads and tablets, smart phones or plain old PCs and laptops.

The era we’re in, I think, is one of speculation and one that is ripe for experimentation, for testing a variety of methods, devices and distribution. It would be mad for any publisher, writer or distributor to put their eggs in one basket. But even madder is some big names in the industry have been slow to put their eggs in any basket.

Enter the emerging writers and the small time writers. We’ve got a real chance to lead the way. And despite the term ‘evangelical’ having horrible connotations for me, I’ve become a bit of an eBook evangelist. I’ve spoken elsewhere about the chances emerging writers have to get in on the eBook market before the big guys do, but now part of me is assessing how much my little experiment is working and what is holding me back.

Using the emerging music scene that I have friends involved in, I was inspired to produce something like a demo tape or EP. I liked the idea of going to see a local band and if you liked them and wanted to support them, you’d buy their CD and/or t-shirt. It’s never like the polished albums you buy from JB Hi-Fi, but it doesn’t really matter. You hope by supporting them, it will contribute to them getting bigger.

Sanity JuxtaposedI tried this with writing and eBooks. I got together some of the flash fiction I posted on my blog, my very first short stories and poems and some blog posts, and put them into a collection called Sanity Juxtaposed. It’s a kind of sample of my work and the early work is meant to be an example of where I’ve come from and how I’ve improved (dramatically) since then.

How’s the experiment gone? Not as well as I’d hoped. I’m kind of assessing it now but not regretting having tried. The eBook remains available in a variety of places to see who will bite, but I’m already looking at how to improve.

For one, I’ve changed the price. eBook pricing remains hotly contested. I originally set it at $5. I wanted it to mean something if someone shelled out their cash. Unfortunately, the nature of shelling over $5 in the online word seems a lot harder than pulling out a $5 note at a gig. I put it down to $2 a few months ago, but nothing much has changed.

One thing I am questioning is whether it was a good idea to put those first pieces of writing in there. I outlined the rationale for doing so in the introduction and hoped it wouldn’t mean those early works formed the basis of how people judged my writing, but with eBooks, most people download samples first before purchasing and I’m afraid those tales at the start probably served the basis for whether or not they bought the whole thing. I’d advise to put your best work forward and not devalue yourself.

Those are two things to consider if you’re experimenting with eBooks – the price and what content you include. But it would be interesting to hear what others think and to use it to adjust my experiment accordingly. I haven’t even mentioned marketing and how that affects sales. Playing around with covers, blurbs and promotion could mean a lot more than I’ve been able to look into yet.

And despite any mistakes we make, experiment, we must. Smashwords.com provides an ideal base in which to try things out and get yourself out there to a variety of formats and devices. I think it was even Alan that led me on this route, but others have followed such as Shane Jiraiya Cummings who has just launched his ‘grand experiment’ [Shane will be taking a guest blog here as well soon, talking about his experiences – Alan] with lots of titles on offer. He’s yet another example of someone taking the dive into this whole thing and it benefits all of us.

Those that venture into this jungle of digital publishing learn and teach the others around us by asking questions and sharing what does and doesn’t work. So if you’re one of these emerging writers looking into this with trepidation, know you’re not alone.

Benjamin Solah describes himself as a Marxist Horror Writer, writes fiction, performs poetry around Melbourne, and is an active blogger (http://benjaminsolah.com/blog) and socialist activist. He is currently working on a short story collection and his latest short story, ‘Somewhere to Pray,’ features in Chinese Whisperings: The Yang Book.

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