Saturday I drove to San Rafael for an afternoon lecture on ebooks by Brain Felsen of Book Baby, hosted by BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publisher’s Association). It was well worth the two hour drive. I was hesitant about going because I didn’t know if this would be just a sales pitch about how wonderful Book Baby is. But I decided to give it a chance, and I’m really glad I did.
Book Baby is an ebook distributor that formats your manuscript to all of the ebook reader specifications (Kindle, iBook, Nook, etc…) and distributes them to every outlet, including Amazon and your own personal website. The basic package is $99 and a $19 yearly fee, and the author gets 100% of all sales. If you need more help than formatting and distribution, you can pay a little more for cover design and other other extras. Overall, seems like a nice deal, and Book Baby has a great reputation for fairness.
Why bother paying someone to format your ebook when you can do it yourself?
That’s exactly why I went to the workshop. I’m a big believer in DIY; starting a small press is testament to my belief that if you want it, do your homework, and work your ass off, you can make it happen.
Brian Felsen is energetic, friendly, and very supportive of indy publishers. Even though he was severely jet-lagged from a cross country flight, he took his time answering questions and never once indicated he thought someone had asked something stupid (although I admit I rolled my eyes a couple of times). He began with a brief explanation of what Book Baby is and how it works, but made it clear he was not there to sell his company. The focus was on what it takes to turn a book into an ebook.
What I began to understand midway through his talk was that ebooks are an entirely different art-form from traditional, paper books. Even the cover has to be designed differently from physical book covers. An ebook cover has to look good as a small icon on virtual shelf full of icons and catch someone’s eye. Simple and uncluttered is better than an image with a lot of design elements. That doesn’t mean it has to be so simple it’s boring look amateurish; take some time to look at ebook covers on a website, or even better an iPad. Which covers stand out and beautifully express the book? Which ones get lost, or are incomprehensible as a 1″ square?
There are other companies distributing ebooks, such as SmashWords and Ingram, which I currently useI for Medusa’s Muse books. SmashWords is free, but they don’t work with Amazon, so that means you have to do a separate deal with Amazon. If you want to sell lots of ebooks, you have to work with Amazon. Ingram will transform my print books into ebooks, but they set all the rules and only give back 40%.
Brain also explained the difference between Dynamic and Fixed layout ebooks. Dynamic is compatible with every device and is cheap to create. Fixed is just that: fixed. The layout can’t change, so the book isn’t compatible with every device. But if you want to include multimedia you need to create Fixed layout ebooks. Then he discussed the pros and cons of DRM (digital rights management) and cautioned writers not to worry against locking down their books, because that can limit the number of sales.
Pricing is challenging. How do you know how much to charge for an ebook? One author Brain told us about charges $2.99 for a 40K word book, and $4.99 for a 65K word book. Seems like a good strategy to get started thinking about pricing your own books. Mostly, you need to know your genre and understand how much your market will pay.
in closing, Brian shared his thoughts about the contribution writes make to the world. Yes, there are thousands of people writing books, but each person has a unique view of the world. They are contributing to the story of us all, sharing ideas, and sparking imagination. That is important. However, writers shouldn’t think they’re owed something just because they write. “Society doesn’t owe you a living making art,” he said. He reminded us there are farmworkers picking strawberries in the hot sun right now earning their living. Why should we believe just because we’re artists we should be handed prestige and cash? And then he said, “Choose life; be weird, be amazing, be alive.”
Bravo Mr. Felsen.
For more info about Book Baby, go to their website, and be sure to check out the blog. It’s full of interesting and fun information about books, writing, and publishing.