Guest post: ‘Ebooks for writers: 101’ by Paul Hurst

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of ebooks, by author, musician and business guru Paul Hurst.

Ebooks for writers: 101

Firstly, it does not have to be an either / or choice. There is no need to discard all your ‘dead tree’ products and embrace these little electric fondle slabs as a True Believer. Neither should you regard them as manifestations of all things corrupt, decadent and / or unholy. They are different, that’s all. The most hostile reactions usually come from those who can’t use them, with antipathy often fading as soon as they try one out and realise the benefits.

Secondly, please don’t subscribe to the idea that the only place to buy or sell ebooks is Amazon. That’s like saying that you love reading, but will only ever buy books from a single supplier. There are many sites that have interesting content – much of it free. Start with http://www.gutenberg.org and http://www.smashwords.com, and have a general rummage round the interweb. Kindles are not the only fruit. Some gentle research will show you how to download the ebooks to your ereader via a cable and your home computer.

Thirdly, if you don’t understand where your page numbers have gone to, I’m afraid you haven’t quite got the hang of the format yet. The person reading gets to choose the screen and font size, as well as the font itself. All these variables affect how many words will fit onto the screen. Lovingly crafted typesetting will go out of the window as soon as the font size is changed. Asking how many pages an ebook has is rather like asking how high a gallon of water is.

So, ebooks and writers, how do we benefit? Well, they are an excellent way to start out, and to test your market. Rather than starting off down the well worn path of chasing agents and publishers, offer up your work directly to the public. Become an overnight success, and the industry will be chasing you. It’s much more likely that the axis of the World will not shift upon publication of your masterpiece however, but by sending out copies for review you can collect feedback on your style and content. All without the cost of a print run, and the embarrassment of a garage full of unsold books.

Compared to their printed cousins ebooks are so much easier to bring to term from conception to birth, and so much easier to correct. No tingly feeling at the back of the neck when you open the first box of books fresh from the printers and start spotting the odd typo you had missed. But do please take the time to learn how to get the formatting right. Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

Read the relevant manual for the system you’ll be using (I use Smashwords, their guide is at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52) and make sure you understand the rules. In general, use an early version of Word (.doc, NOT .docx), set up your display to show all the formatting marks, use styles and keep everything as simple as possible. Errors can still creep in if you are publishing in multiple formats. If in doubt, hire a tame nerdling to do it for you, but do take care, I ended up converting my own book after a poor attempt by someone else. How I got started, really.

The usual rules apply. Write from the heart, have a clear idea of who your market is and what they want. Listen to feedback. Don’t have wild expectations about your sales; the market is awash with rivals and your book will disappear into the virtual depths of an electronic warehouse. You’ll need an effective plan to drive potential readers to it. Hitting the social media trail can work, but it is becoming so common that author fatigue is setting in. Here are three other ideas:

Start low, build up

If you have a series of stories, offer the first free, and have some kind of discount voucher for the second if the reader signs up to a mailing list. Okay, so you are giving away potential income, but don’t underestimate the value of a contact list of your readers. You’ll be able to send out a bulk mailing to tell them about new books. Keep the pricing fair for the length of your work, and if you can, start with shorter / cheaper ebooks before moving up to longer / more expensive ones. Don’t get hung up by the word count, either. Use as many or as few words as you need. Ebooks are different; the whole set up is more relaxed.

Give books away

So long as they contain links, that is. Remember, an ebook equates to a pop-up book, not a 2D paperback. Always include a link to your own website, you can also add hyperlinks to take readers straight through to another book (or product). Do it gently though. Use oh so gentle links wafted in front of your reader, rather than trying to stuff them down their throats, or coming across as all needy. This one does it rather well (no, its NOT one of mine!) http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/10166.

Keep giving

As a card-carrying geek I was one of the first of the beta testers to get onto the Pottermore site and have a shufti. It will be free to join, and is very impressive. The sales part isn’t live yet, but soon Jo Rowling will be selling her ebooks directly to the public. Cynics will say it’s all about the money, but they’ll be wrong. It would not have been a cheap site to build and it won’t be cheap to run. There are some really fun interactive bits on it (you even get sorted into a house, based on your psychological profile) and it contains a lot of extra background information. She didn’t need to do all that, sales would still have been eye watering. It’s a genuine way to give back to the fans. Whilst we can’t all match that level of spending power, any author can probably set up a website with some extra free content. And for those in the know, Ravenclaw, yay!

If you would like more details, download a free copy of ‘Creating Ebooks’ from:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/47970

Thank you Paul!

Paul Hurst has run his own companies since the mid 1980’s. Small, stable ‘niche’ affairs with the absolute minimum of overheads. Two of the companies cover his work as a musician and performer since the late 70’s, and as band leader since the early 80’s. Working through his business The Solutions Agency Ltd, Paul provides book keeping, accountancy, training and consultancy services to a wide range of small companies, drawing on his experience in banking, County Court, retail, management accounting, advertising, building, civil engineering, importing, engineering and now psychology as a student with the Open University.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at morgen@morgenbailey.com with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

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7 thoughts on “Guest post: ‘Ebooks for writers: 101’ by Paul Hurst

  1. williamdoonan says:

    Enjoyed your post, Paul. I keep thinking that sooner, rather than later, someone will come up with a definitive matrix to once and for all define the pricing ratio for treebook vs eBook. If we’re publishing in two formats, what is the magic differential? If the treebook costs $9.95, should the eBook cost $4.95 or $2.95?

    William Doonan
    http://www.williamdoonan.com

    Like

    • morgenbailey says:

      Thank you William. I agree that eBooks should be cheaper and it does annoy me when some mainstream publishers release them at the same price or negligibly cheaper because they know that readers will pay because they’re hardy enough fans. I’ve emailed Paul to say you’ve left a message and will also be interested to see his reply. 🙂

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    • paul Hurst says:

      Hi William
      We’re testing to see what works (I publish for several authors). My personal preference is $.99 for a shortish book (7k to 15k words), and $2.99 for full length – that feels fair, as there are no print, postage or packing costs, and I would always want to get the biggest audience possible for future (hopefully!) sales. There is an interesting test on pricing here, where readers were invited to set the price – http://blog.smashwords.com/2010/02/what-happens-when-ebook-customers.html

      I’ve had sales with business books at $9.99 and $6.99 by another author – actually, considering the info they contain, that’s really cheap for anyone in business. Harder for fiction though, where you are selling entertainment rather than information.

      I should be able to give a better reply in Jan 2012, as that will give us a decent period to look at how the different approaches work.

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    • Paul Hurst (@paul_hurst) says:

      ” – most people on the honor system didn’t pay!”
      And a very low follow up via Smashwords and free listing sites from downloading free ebooks to coughing up $.99 for the follow on. Results will probably be better via the mainstream distributors, we’ll know in a few months.

      Like

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