Today is an exciting day people: I get to introduce my first guest blogger ever, Graham Storrs.  Graham has stopped by on his International Blog Tour to talk about his new ebook, TimeSplash, and the realities of epublishing. Graham is a great guy and an excellent writer. Have a look at his blog, buy his book, ask questions in the comments section, check him out on Twitter as @Graywave.  And now, without further ado, I give you Graham Storrs.

An Agent Would be Nice, Or a Therapist

It is a little more than two months since my debut novel, TimeSplash, hit the bookstores. It is a science fiction thriller, a near-future, time travel story in which two young people are tracking a dangerous killer who can jump back in time. There’s an oddball love story woven in there along with a dash of steampunk, but it is basically a straightforward action thriller. If you know sci-fi writers like Dan Simmons and Michael Crichton, you know the kind of thing.

It is a bold and unusual step, almost unheard of, for a mainstream writer – even a writer of science fiction – to publish in ebook formats only. Yet, with TimeSplash, that is exactly what I have done. In this post, I would like to share some of the thoughts I have on what I have learned and how this brave experiment is working out for me.

1. The Importance of Reviews. Probably the biggest single thing I’ve learned since becoming published is that reviews are everything. And I don’t just mean individuals writing about the book on Amazon, or some kindly reader taking a shine to your work and writing about it on their blog, I mean reviews in the major newspapers, the top genre magazines, and the top genre websites and review blogs. Unless these outlets, with their hundreds-of-thousands-sized readerships, review your work, the people who read your genre will never discover that you exist.

2. Nobody (Big) Reviews eBooks. They simply refuse to even look at them. Partly this is because the big reviewers don’t have staff with ebook readers (yet) and partly it is because they equate ‘ebook’ with ‘self-published’. The result is that, no matter how hard you try, or your publisher tries, to get a sci-fi ebook reviewed, it won’t happen. The book will remain obscure. As an ebook, sold through online bookstores, an obscure book has a low sales rank. A low sales rank means that it does not appear on the first page when a reader searches on generic terms (like “science fiction”, “thriller”, or even “time travel”). So no-one ever sees it. The obscurity is self-fulfilling.

3. Not All Channels Are Equal . If a reader buys my book direct from the publisher, I get $2.20. If they buy it from Amazon, I get about $0.61c. Amazon sales need to be four times greater than my publisher’s sales for me to make as much money. At the moment, they are less than half – partly because I have been encouraging readers to buy from the publisher rather than anywhere else. Selling books at $0.61c seems almost like a waste of time. What volume of sales would make it worth the time and effort of trying to push sales towards Amazon? A thousand per year (=$610)? Ten thousand (=$6,100)? What would it take to sell ten thousand copies of TimeSplash a year on Amazon?

4. Some Channels Are Downright Weird. Take Amazon for example. The publisher’s ‘list price’ for TimeSplash is $5.50. Amazon discounts that by 20% to sell them at $4.40 – but that is only in the USA. Outside the US (where 95% of the world lives) Amazon adds $2 to the price of every ebook it sells (even the free ones) making TimeSplash $6.40 in the Kindle Store. The end result is that, even the discounted price on Amazon is higher than the publisher’s price and, in fact, is the highest price for my book anywhere on Earth.

5. eBooks Are Extremely Price Sensitive. Figures are hard to come by, but it looks as though readers prefer ebooks to be free. If they can’t get them for free, then one or two dollars is what they’d like to pay. People will pay more, but only for big name authors and best sellers. As the price drops, downloads go up exponentially. The author Joe Konrath (my favourite writer on this subject) sells all his books at $1.99 in the Kindle Store having determined this as the optimum price point.

6. The eBook Market Is Very Small. In the commercially-published world, ebook sales may be around 3% to 5% of the print book market. It is growing fast – but growing from a very low baseline. What that means is that, just by being in the print book market, an author might expect 20 times the sales they would if they were in the ebook market. Of course, particular authors will have different outcomes in each market, and most authors are still not available electronically, this is just an average. From the trends, it looks as if the two markets may not be equal until five or ten more years have passed (with print continuing to decline and ebooks continuing to grow until print publishing is marginal.) Additionally, in Australia (where I live and where you might expect people to be interested in my book) ebook uptake is negligible. The US and Europe are at least 2 years ahead. And another trend of interest is the number of people with ebook readers, or devices, like smartphones, running ereader software.. This is hard to judge – the ereader hardware manufacturers are very cagey – but it might be something like 5 million, worldwide (almost none in Australia!) That isn’t very many as a proportion of the reading public. Given all this, it was probably a bad moment to choose to risk one’s career on an electronic-only strategy. At present, real success can only come from print publishing.

7. Marketing Is Hugely Important – And It Is Not My Thing. In the run-up to my book launch, I ramped up my blog following from about 500 unique visits per month to over 1,000. I also took my Twitter following from zero to over 900. Frankly, however, this is quite pathetic. People who are good at this stuff can rack up tens of thousands of blog and Twitter followers in a similar amount of time. If you tell 1,000 people that you’ve written a book, maybe a few percent will be interested enough to take a look at it. If you’re lucky, a few percent of those will consider buying it, and a few percent of those will have ebook readers, or won’t mind reading off the screen, so will buy it. Your thousand followers therefore leads to a handful of sales – perhaps. Yet, even with ten thousand followers, or a hundred thousand, it is hard to see where enough sales will come from. I’m not very good at marketing (if I was, I’d probably be off doing it and getting rich) but I find it hard to see how a lone marketer with no resources could make enough of an impact. Which takes us back to those reviews again.

8. Writing Is Insanely Competitive. I sort of knew this before, but I never really felt it until I had a book to sell. There are 300,000 books commercially published each year (and another 300,000 self-published. That’s a number similar to the entire contents of the Kindle Store each and every year. In the ten minutes during which you have been reading this, another six books have hit the streets. Each one of them has a publisher promoting it (more or less effectively) as well as an author. How does one book get any attention among all those hundreds of thousands? I don’t know. But I do know that, to give your book its best shot, traditional publishing, on paper, with a big-name publisher would at least not hinder you.

9. All Books Are Not Equal. eBooks are simply not eligible for the major awards. Awards are not like reviews in their marketing effectiveness, but they help. I’m not suggesting that TimeSplash would be in the running for an award – even if it were printed on paper – but it is yet another avenue of book publicity that is closed to the electronic-only author.

10. An Agent Would Be Nice. These days, I’m all caught up in the craziness of book promotion and have little head-space for anything else. But what about the film rights, translations and foreign-language sales? Should I be trying to sell print rights? Who’s taking care of that? Actually, nobody is. I wouldn’t have a clue, and my publisher is a small press which is busy publishing books, not trying to sell my rights. I knew I needed an agent, but I should have hung on and found one before I found a publisher.

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Before I go, I’d just like to say a big thank you to Uppington for hosting this stop on my blog tour. If you haven’t been here before, I suggest you stay a while and look around. This is a lovely blog, full of funny, clever, delightful pieces you will almost certainly enjoy.

Graham Storrs is the author of TimeSplash, a fast-paced time travel thriller. This post is part of the TimeSplash blog tour running from 16th February to the 5th May. To find out more about the book, go to the TimeSplash website and check out the blog tour schedule page at “TimeSplash – The Blog Tour 2010”

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