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Posts Tagged ‘the writing life’

book thief

Some notes on my experience of the self-publishing scene.

There may be other distribution networks for independent authors out there, but so far as I can tell the above listed are the mainstays of the self-publishing world at the moment. Amazon and Smashwords allow authors to charge money for their books. Free e-books, obviously, doesn’t.

I never discuss Amazon much as a platform, other than to warn writers you’ll probably find your stories (like my Sea View Café) appearing on there as pirated versions. Yes Ethelyn Purvines, I mean you, you shameless little bastard! All independent authors are vulnerable in this regard and, though galling, there’s little point making a fuss about it. But neither do I wish to spend time promoting a platform where it’s hard for a reader to tell the difference if they’re paying money to a genuine author or a dubious doppelgänger. They seem to operate a strictly hands off policy at Amazon, so anyone can publish anything and get away with it, thus e-book piracy thrives. Use Amazon if you like, but I don’t and never will. If you find a book on there that looks like mine, it’s pirated. I also find it near impossible to get stuff like this taken down.

Smashwords on the other hand perform some basic checks on your uploaded work. Their formatting requirements can seem fussy at first but are not unreasonable, and the fact the author has to put some effort in does tend to discourage the pirates who’d rather not do any work beyond cut and paste. Unlike Amazon the Smashwords team also do random searches on snippets of text from your uploaded manuscripts to check you’re not merely ripping off someone else’s work. This level of diligence enables them to court distribution arrangements with other “premium” e-book sites like Apple’s iStore, Barnes and Noble and WH Smith. That said, although those big names do carry my books, I’ve never had a download from any of them, so they’re not worth bragging about.

Smashwords also allows a writer the flexibility to set their work as free, or to experiment with a range of price-points. If you make your books free, you can expect on average three or four downloads per day – more when a work is new. If you set a price, you won’t download as many. “The Inn at the Edge of Light” went up in December 2019, priced $0.99, and as of now has been downloaded four times, which is hardly a living, so don’t kid yourself, but all in all I do recommend Smashwords for its integrity and its service to self-publishing.

If you’re happy to give your books away, Free Ebooks have a much higher download rate, but sadly I note those titles I put up on Free Ebooks started appearing on Amazon in pirate versions. Ethelyn Purvines pirate version of my Sea View Café was lifted directly from Free Ebooks. I’ve now closed my account with them and had them pull all my books from their circulation lists. If you’re sensitive about the possibility of your work being stolen, I really can’t recommend them.

There is another distribution network called Wattpad but that’s a bit of a wilderness and I can’t recommend that either, not if you’re ambitious to find readers. I do post on there when drafting a new work, but for reasons that are more to do with setting the pace of writing a story, than for self-publishing it. For example, my current work in progress “Winter on the Hill” I’m posting on Wattpad at a rate of roughly one chapter per week. I find this deadline, though imaginary, adds a little energy to things. When the story’s complete, it’ll disappear and go to Smashwords.

Writers write for many reasons. For some it’s vanity, but they tend to last only so long as it takes for reality to kick in. Others write for their friends, others for themselves, others because it’s in their blood, and they have no choice. For critical acclaim and money you still need to find your way into conventional publishing with its distribution and marketing machinery. Without that, if the Booker prize is still your aim, you’re dead in the water.

Until someone comes up with a coveted prize for self-published e-book fiction, the literary talent willing to sit on a judging panel for free, and a sponsor willing to stump up some serious prize money, self-publishing’s always going to be for the outsiders who can’t get a look in any other way, and that means writing mostly for nothing.

Is writing for nothing worth it? Well, “Saving Grace” went up on Smashwords for free about a year ago and to date it’s been downloaded 2166 times, so plenty of people have read it and some have written back to tell me they enjoyed it. Am I pleased by that, even though it’s not made me a dime? Yes I am. By contrast just four people have downloaded “The Inn at the Edge of Light” for which I’m charging $0.99. Am I as pleased by that? Well, grateful as I am to those readers who took a punt, the money gained from self-publishing is clearly never going be sufficient incentive to write your next book is it?

But then writers write. If it doesn’t suit you, or it makes you unhappy, then don’t.

Be well.

Graeme out.

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