Amazon loosens its Kindle payment purse

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stack of coinsAmazon will now pay you for every e-book you sell every month. The largest book retailer in the world is paying much quicker than any traditional publisher. From a message sent to all of us Kindle authors this week:

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) authors who receive their royalty payments electronically will now be paid in full every month for all their sales without any minimum thresholds for payout. This gives authors greater access to their earnings and a more reliable payment schedule, 60 days after the month royalties are earned.

It’s easy to set your account payment preference for the Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) royalty payment option. Simply sign in to your KDP account and under “Your Royalty Payments,” select EFT for each applicable marketplace.

You’ll get an electronic payment to your checking account 60 days after the month in which the sale occurred. Yes, if you sold one 99-cent book, Amazon will pay you the 67 cents (your 70 percent, less the data file carrying charge.)

In the old scheme — and for authors who still insist on checks instead of electronic deposits — you needed to hit a threshold of $100 to see any royalties. There’s something heartwarming about seeing even modest deposits from a book you’ve labored to write, get edited and proofread, then pushed you way into the Kindle store.

On that last task: Bookbaby has a $249 package that takes your Word file and makes it available to the leading ebook distributors. There’s a pared-back set of services at $99, too. Highly recommended.

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Self-publication route smooths with editorial support

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On the website Writer Unboxed, an article proposes that the movement to self-publish will break down barriers enough to entice writers with traditional deals. It already has; a best-seller like Steven Pressfield (Legend of Bagger Vance, the War of Art) has founded Black Irish Press for his latest book. The net result? Books get into the markets and onto readers’ devices, books that the traditional houses won’t invest in with a traditional deal.

But these self-published books still need support from editors and marketers to wear down the prejudice against this route.

They succeed for one main reason–the ability to price, package and reach your own audience without gatekeepers who need to publish blockbusters. It’s a tremendous amount of creative freedom that has already created some new sub-genres because there was no editor or marketing panel to say, “We don’t think stories about post-high school will sell.”

There is also the money. The average return for a writer on a trade paperback book is about a dollar. On hardcover, maybe you get a bit higher. On mass market, it’s a bit lower. Still. You have to sell a heap of books to make a decent living, and the truth is, shelf space has shrunk insanely over the past five years. In digital publishing, the return on even a $2.99 book is around 2 dollars. At higher price points, it goes higher. Do the math.

And oh, it comes in monthly. Monthly! For a great many established authors, this is mind-boggling.

It’s true there is less respect for self-publishing, for all the reasons that have always existed. But I predict that the support systems of editorial and design will continue to improve and writers will be able to hire the teams they require. Many of us are already doing it.

This dispatch came from the latest Romance Writers of America conference. Just this morning I was talking about Jodi Thomas, a writer of bestselling romances who taught me at the Writer’s League of Texas Writing Academy. Jodi stays busy with a couple of books per year. But she was glad to admit she needed help from editors.

At one point in her career, she was frustrated with the revision letters she was getting from her editor about punctuation. She joked, “I just typed up a page of commas and sent them to her and said, ‘You put them where they belong.’ ”

Jodi’s a best-seller because she’s an ace with characters, draws vivid settings (her latest is the Harmony series, set in the made-up Harmony, Texas) and knows story structure cold. We all need another set of eyes for something in our work. Outside editors are essential. If you don’t get a deal from a small press, you can still get an editor. Your compensation comes in $2 increments off that ebook. Every month — not by the quarter like a traditional deal.

Most editors let us pay by the month for services, too. Look into it if you’re getting a book up on its feet and need coaching or editing.

Trimmed-out parts of nonfiction can become singles

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Much like the music business using 45s of the 1960s and 1970s, today’s publishing is using smaller bits of books to attract sales of the complete work. The e-book option was exercised on a chapter omitted from a book by NPR’s The Math Guy, Keith Devlin. His new book The Man Of Numbers had a chapter dropped onto the cutting room floor that Devlin and his agent Ted Weinstein produced and have published as a single, available across all the ebook reader platforms.

There’s about 70 such Singles in the Amazon Kindle store, many  of them fiction in the form of short stories. Amazon wants an author to have a complete book for sale in order to get a Single into the store. The Singles, of course, have always been digital files; a few years back they were PDFs that you didn’t even need a Kindle to read.

The extra material from Devlin’s book is about Leonardo DaVinci and his 600-year jump on Steve Jobs. More importantly, it’s a way for Devlin’s traditional publisher to let the author test the waters, permitting authors to create these singles. Devlin cut his own deal in publishing to make the Single appear, but he needed permission from Man of Numbers publisher Bloomsbury to do it.

Independent singles in the record business could spark a complete album, and still do. The record label took its standard cut of the sales, though. Book authors who write long — especially the nonfiction writer like the one that I’m editing this week — can generate their own higher-percentage revenues from a single. Bloomsbury figures short works like this single will help sell The Man of Numbers. It also serves as a roadmap for making a good but standalone chapter an earner for an author. More details at the Paid Content website. Weinstein wants everybody to understand he’s not adding “publisher” to his business card, and he’s still an agent. That’s his story today, anyway. Good agents will see these allied deals and partner with their authors.

What’s the ebook doing to indie bookstores?

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I don’t know if our independent bookstore BookPeople has slayed anyone yet. Many books are sold at Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco and HEB stores. BookPeople is a local treasure, to be sure. But its owner rattled his saber recently to say the store’s success, and shunning ebooks, defies the trend. What trend, exactly?

That B&N and Borders and Books A Million have put indie stores out of business? Yes, true. In every major city there’s at least one BookPeople, like Tattered Cover in Denver, or A Clean Well Lighted Place or City Lights in SF, or Powell’s in Portland. Smaller indie stores, like BookWoman in Austin, suffer more from the Boxes. Where the BookPeople owner goes awry is thinking ebooks won’t matter: “One thing you can’t do with a digital book is get it signed by an author… you can’t drop it in the swimming pool by mistake and have it work when you pick it up.”

But unsold ebooks have no return costs, and scant delivery fees. Physical books won’t die – but these comments sound like Blockbuster insisting “movie rental via mail will never work.” Consider the percentage of books sold at BookPeople with no chance of being signed, or the number dropped into swimming pools. These are not great reasons to dismiss ebooks. Reselling used books, lending them to friends, marking up ebooks easily: those are real shortcomings.

I pray for the continued health of BookPeople, which has shrunk in size from its zenith in the 90s, after its so-modest beginnings as Grok Books when I arrive in Austin in the 70s. Such survival would be a more prudent goal than hoping to slay anything. And if this store could become an outlet for indie ebook buying, somehow, tying the store experience with the advantages of ebook cost and storage, that might break some genuine new ground in Austin.

Updating books easier with e-editions

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O’Reilly Media has been on the vanguard of e-book publishing for years, pushing how-to content about computer use and technical training. Today they showed off a first: discounted updates for a title I already owned. During an Earth Day promotion I bought a discounted Photoshop CS4 e-book from the press. Since Adobe moved up to CS5 recently, O’Reilly figured I’d need a fresher edition of the book. For the non-fiction authors in the audience, here’s how it sounds when you want to sell a newer version to an older reader.

Hello Ron. Because you’re a valued O’Reilly customer, we want to offer you a special 40% discount on the new print edition and a 50% discount on the ebook of a book you registered with O’Reilly. Enter discount code “PHTC5” in the O’Reilly shopping cart. Offer expires July 25, 2010.

Another computer press, TidBits, gives its customers free updates to some of its Macintosh manuals, while also discounting for other readers who bought further back in the process. TidBits even has a link inside the e-book you can click on to check for a fresher edition. It’s all impossible or cost-prohibitive with paper books. A computer instruction book, or any kind of how-to, gains value through the search capabilities of an e-edition. The direct contact with the customers — which enables the publisher to address me as “Ron” — helps a writer build a platform of readers, too.

E-books deliver royalties matching print

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One of the more interesting agents who’s attending this month’s Writer’s League of Texas Agents Conference has pointed out an e-book deal that out-earns printed volumes. Laurie McLean’s blog re-published a report from Mike Shatzkin’s Idea Logical blog. Shatzkin, who McLean describes as a publishing industry consultant, said author J.A. Konrath will earn $2.10 on an Amazon Encore e-book sale of $2.99. Okay, Konrath is a print-published author; his Jack Daniels female cop series has been published by Hyperion, a great house that sold tens of thousands of my pal Karen Stolz’s House of Pies novel-in-stories.

But Konrath has been very vocal that he just sold a book to Amazon Encore that the major publishing houses turned down. When a series character novel isn’t picked up, it’s sometimes due to declining numbers in sales. The major houses probably couldn’t find a way to justify another Jack Daniels title, but Amazon can — because it runs the biggest e-book store in the world.

This is all happening in 2010. Just imagine how the scales will have tipped toward authors-as-publishers, engaging some kind of distributor like Amazon for e-books, in a couple more years. Agent Savant McLean quotes the Shatzkin blog for these details on how well it pays this author to skip the paper and ink:

Nonetheless, this is a significant jolt to conventional publishing economics. Sales of Konrath’s $2.99 ebook will deliver him about $2.10 a copy (Konrath says $2.04; not sure where the other six cents is going…), as much or more as he would make on a $14.95 paperback from a trade publisher, and significantly more than he’d make on a $9.99 ebook distributed under “Agency” terms and current major publisher royalty conventions. And, however one feels about the degree to which pricing is a barrier to ebook sales, one must assume that the $2.99 price will result in a lot more ebook sales than a $9.99 price would. Many times the sales! We’ve been imagining a split market for ebooks: “branded” ones from conventional publishers being sold in the $10-$15 range and “commodity” ones from lesser-known sources (authors and publishers) at $1.99 and $2.99. Over time, we figured that improved curation of the cheaper ones, plus promotional pricing by the branded ones, would drag the overall pricing down. That’s been behind our concern that maintaining anything close to the current pricing for print will be almost impossible to do over time.

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SF (and fiction) basics, books online

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Tor Books is giving away free SF novels through Sunday. I am a big fan of Battlestar Galactica (a SF TV series that is more well-crafted war drama than SF). Downloaded the novel that Tor has published, based on the series, to enjoy the story in print. Well written, indeed.

The author of this Battlestar Galactica novelization, Jeffrey A. Carver, has a Web site with great advice on getting over basic missteps in any kind of writing, as well as the specifics of creating an entertaining SF world.

Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy

And don’t forget to download your free books. Tor is ending the program, which probably rattled some cages in sales for this Macmillan imprint, on Sunday. Maybe most important is what Tor is doing now: putting everything it sells in electronic format, if the big publisher has online rights.

Tor’s Patrick Nielsen Hayden notes: “Tor parent company Macmillan is actively converting all titles to which we have digital rights. It really is just a matter of time before the majority of our library is available in e-book form…. There are issues of workflow and rights, just as there are everywhere else. I think you’ll see lots more e-books in lots more formats in the next few months.”

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