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Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Have You Done For Me Lately? E-Pubs Need To Step It Up



Nothing gets me more incensed than hearing an e-publisher tell an author "Selling your book is YOUR responsibility. If your book isn't selling, then you're doing something wrong."

I don't know one single author who is not busting her hump to promote herself. Authors are on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, book tours, etc. They are working as hard as they can to sell their books. I keep hearing about what writers should be doing to promote themselves and their work.

How about e-publishers?

E-Publishers need to promote themselves, too. No matter how hard authors work to sell their books, if the e-publishers are not doing just as much work to create a high-quality, high-profile presence on-line, then the authors are not going to be successful.

Let's talk some turkey, shall we?

1. Website

Just as an author's website is critically important, an e-publisher's website can create a professional and polished image, or it can crash and burn as amateurish-looking, pornographic and tacky. It is the first impression you get of an epub. When you visit their site, is it easy to navigate? Do they make you jump through hoops to buy a book? Does it look like a college kid set up the homepage? E-publishers need to spend the time, money and energy to create a professional and efficient website/bookstore.

2. Book Covers

You can't run, and you can't hide. Cover art is the first visual impression you get of an epub. There is absolutely NO FREAKIN' EXCUSE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH for piss-poor book covers. NONE. My 9 year old daughter makes up book covers that kick ass. Use a simple image. Use a solid cover. Whatever. What is an epub offering authors that they can't do on their own as self-pubbers? Cover art, editing, distribution, promotion. If an epub can't manage to create good cover art, they should bail. And don't tell me cover art isn't important. It is. If your cover art looks like someone slapped a head on top of another body, has naked body parts flying through the air, or looks like a Saturday Night Live skit, get out of the business. No excuses for crap covers.

Bad (Changeling Press):


Good (Samhain):



3. Editing

Editing matters, too. This goes for book blurbs, website text, the book itself. Formatting matters. If you are an epublisher, that's your business. You put out digital books. They better be formatted correctly. And don't tell me it's Amazon's fault, B&N's fault, blah blah blah. It's your fault. Make sure your books are properly edited and formatted before you put them out there for public consumption. Otherwise, you look like a loser. And while we're on the subject of grammar, typos and spelling errors, if you send your authors an email message, make sure it is edited, too. I've seen emails from publishers with hideously bad spelling mistakes, and I've seen publishers leave blog comments with grammatical errors. For cripe's sake, writing is your business. Don't look like an ignoramus.

4. Act Like Professionals

Don't leave snarky comments for reviewers. On Twitter. On Facebook. On blog posts. Publishers need to take a step back and stay out of the fray. It's unprofessional to do otherwise.

5. Reviews

Put your money where your mouth is. Send your books out to well-respected review sites. Using half-assed sites that crank out 10,000 generic reviews a week is lazy. Push it. Try for Publishers Weekly, RT, and some of the other larger romance sites. Your authors deserve it. It will increase your respectability in the industry. No one (except authors) is visiting those other sites. And you know it.

6. Make Sure Your Books Are Widely Available

I have a Kindle. I like to buy my books on Amazon. If you're a small epublisher and you only offer your books through your own website, you are doing readers and authors a disservice. Make sure your books are offered at a wide variety of booksellers, so readers have a choice, and sales will increase.

7. Use Your Best Authors As A Promotional Tool

Do you have authors who are winning awards? Making bestseller lists? Gaining popularity? Use them. Post a bestseller list on your homepage. Post quotes from high-profile reviewers. Put up banners on your homepage with stuff like "Congrats To Susy Q, NYT Bestseller For 10 Weeks!" and "Congrats To Jennie J, Winner of the RITA Award" and "Check out Nancy Nee's Hot Cowboy Series!" There is a trickle-down effect. The high profile, award-winning authors will bring in visitors to your site, which benefits ALL your authors. Announce your good news on Twitter and Facebook. Set yourself apart from the dozens of other epubs by promoting your success and good news.

8. Treat Your Authors Right

Pay them on time, offer them fair contracts, don't cheat them and misrepresent sales. Once your reputation suffers by mistreating your authors, it's hard to regain trust.

9. Promote Yourself

What does this mean? I'm not talking about authors promoting themselves or their books. I'm talking about epublishers promoting their companies. Go to conferences. Give on-line workshops. Participate. Write articles. Visit blogs and do guest posts. Talk about your company. Why is it good? What do you do? How can you make yourself a high-profile and respected presence on-line? Take out ads. Tweet. Be active on Facebook. Talk about the genre, changes and trends. Show people that you are professional and on top of this business. If you want to compete with the other epubs, you need to provide high quality books and promote them. If you can't afford good cover artists, editors and a marketing department, then don't get into this business.

10. Walking That Fine Line

There is a fine line between porn and erotica. If you crank out Daddy, Spank Me books with covers that have naked body parts, you don't look like a professional publishing company. You look like a pornographer. Now, you might be making buckets of money selling skanky ho books. Good for you. But don't complain if you don't get respect in the publishing world. If you look like a pornographer, smell like a pornographer, and talk like a pornographer....you get the picture.

11. Book Costs

We all know that ebooks priced over $5 are not doing well with sales. If you're an epublisher, and you are consistently pricing your books too high, you look idiotic. Like you are not on top of the trends. And like you really don't give a crap about your authors. Be thoughtful about book pricing. Offer sales and specials. And promote them. Readers love that. Obviously, epubs can't price their books as low as self-pubbers are doing.....they still have bills to pay to keep up a business. But they need to stay competitive. And pricing ebooks over $10 is not going to cut it right now.

12. $$$

The national RWA has set certain criteria for PAN-eligibility. (PAN is the Published Authors Network). In order to be considered PAN-eligible, an author needs to earn a minimum of $1000 on a book. Let's face facts. $1000 is not a lot of money. It is certainly not enough to use for living expenses. This is a reasonable amount to expect an author to earn from sales for a single book. Every publishing company should be able to guarantee its authors to earn at LEAST this much. Hopefully, much, much more. Any publisher, big or small, digital or print, who does not have the majority of its authors earning this minimal amount of money, should be ashamed. If the majority of authors for a publishing company are not PAN-eligible, then something is wrong. And it's not the authors' problem. It's the publisher's problem.


I am not singling out any one epublisher as being good or bad. I have seen good and bad things from all of them. However, I spend a lot of time on-line and I definitely think that all of them could be doing more to promote themselves as publishing companies. Some are better than others. But they all need to step it up. Their authors deserve it.

With great perspicacity,
Penelope

48 comments:

Amber Skyze said...

What a great post Penny! Writers bust their butts trying to get readers to buy their books.
If writers were seeing better sales at their publishers they wouldn't be self-publishing so much.

Penelope said...

Exactly, Amber. With the ease of self-pubbing, the stakes have gone up. Small e-publishers need to do more and offer incentives so that authors will stick with them.

Casey Wyatt said...

I'm standing on my chair clapping! I couldn't agree more!

Anonymous said...

Great post! T.D. Jones

Steph from fangswandsandfairydust.com said...

There are some ghastly covers out there; often the same picture used over and over, or zoomed in or out. And, while I understand that a cover isn't necessarily a one:one representation of the story but when your talking about Norse god and the cover features very Not so Norse models it loses readers. Sorry, a cover needs to be interesting and have something to do with the inside of the book, be an extrapolation of same, or be completely abstract.

And, editing, well, my kitten could often do a better job. But if an e-pub isn't doing the work; if they aren't helping what is the point of even using them? Cutout that middle-person. There are lots of epub workshops and it sounds like it's a slight increase in work to just do it yourself.

Penelope said...

Thanks, Casey!

Penelope said...

Hi Steph! This is precisely the problem. If an epublisher isn't doing a better job than we could do on our own (or by hiring talented professionals to do the job), then there is a huge problem. They need to offer the whole package....good cover art, good editing, good distribution options, smart marketing.

David Bridger said...

Hi, 'm a newbie here drawn to this excellent post by a friend's tweet.

Thank you!

Terry Spear said...

One of the e-pubs I was with encouraged their authors to pay into a hospitality room at writers' conference, and continually pumped authors for money for promoting the publisher, not necessarily their titles. Sure it was about their titles too, but it was about the publisher and trying to make it on their authors' dollars. Some authors bought into it.

The ending of the story? Not a HEA.

The company went into bankruptcy. One of the covers I had from them was the worst ever. A moon shown through the heroine's nose. They wouldn't change it. LOL

Penelope said...

Hi David--Newbie! Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Penelope said...

Terry! Oh, geez. On the surface, one might think "Well, the publisher will do what's good for my individual sales, right? Because if my sales go up, their profit goes up." However, what's in the publisher's best interest is not necessarily in the author's best interest. A publisher's business model might be to have 5000 authors release their books and sell low quantities of each. This will add up for the publisher, but the authors have bad sales figures. Authors need to be self-advocates. We should not be selling our souls to the devil to get a book on the shelves (digital shelves). I hope you are happier now!

Kwana said...

Thanks for this great post. You have hit every nail on the head here. This should be required reading for e-pubs all around.

Carolyn Crane said...

I'm so impressed with you, Penny! Great post.

Penelope said...

Hi Kwana! Just stating the obvious. ;^)

Penelope said...

Carolyn....you are so sweet. *Penny adjusts her tiara*

Nina Pierce said...

As always, you've hit the nail on the head, Penny. With the ease and simplicity of self-publishing, why would an author choose to have their book pubbed with a small e-press when the amount of work marketing is exactly the same?

As you said, money, book covers and editing had better be stellar to draw authors.

Penelope said...

Hi Nina! It will be very interesting to see what happens in the world of e-pubbing in the upcoming year. Unless these small publishers make some big changes, I think a lot of them will lose their best writers to the self-pubbing market.

Darlene Marshall said...

Excellent post. My publisher (Amber Quill Press) has come a long way in the quality of their covers, and is in the process of revamping their website to make it more up to date and easier to access books. We're all excited about this, but all the small pubs could be doing more to step up their game.

Penelope said...

Hi Darlene! It's great to hear from someone who is happy and pleased with her publisher. It sounds like Amber Quill is working hard to stay competitive in this market. Good for them. I think they did a really nice job with your cover for The Bride and The Buccaneer.

Bethanne said...

Number one and two, yay!
I'd go a step farther on the website issues. I avoided TWRP for a long time because their website drove me crazy. I did--in desperation--sub a story to them once, but when it fell through [def. something wrong with that particular ms], I was a bit relieved. The page is completely congested, cluttered. It wasn't one of those porn issues, which is why I looked at them in the first place.

I actually just wrote about epublishing on my blog a couple days ago. Covers do matter!! I do judge a book by its cover.

Anyway, I agree. E-pubs have to step it up. :) Nicely said.

KB/KT Grant said...

Penny, you rock hard!

It's assumed if a book fails, it's the author's fault. The publish is just at fault also.

Promo is important but an author can't do it all themselves.

Penelope said...

Hi Bethanne! I will go look at your site. I've had friends tell me they tried to buy my book at TWRP, and were put off by the amount of information required to make a purchase. (Not sure if this has changed). You shouldn't need to fill out a whole page of info to buy a book. Just click and buy. Either using paypal or whatever. Those websites need to make it easy for folks to purchase, not difficult. That's why I love the one-click option at Amazon...easy (but bad for my wallet!). I also agree that simple, stream-lined websites are more aesthetic and efficient than clutter.

Penelope said...

KB....all of the rules that apply to authors about promotion also apply to publishing companies. They are a business and need to market themselves. And ultimately, it is their responsibility for selling the books.

Tom Stronach said...

Can I just say: If you are going to start writing serious stuff like this, tweet me first, so I can go grab a coffee and a cookie before I POP IN FOR A FEW MINUTES OF RELAXATION AND LAUGHTER, SHEESHKEBAB AUNTY PENNY.

But having got over my disappointment and not finding a smutty recipe or reference to a bearded hunk - and although I am not really interested in bearded hunks , but do like to listen (virtually)to you drool - and being a non author all you said seemed to make perfect sense to me.

It was interesting about the covers on ebooks too, as I was having a convo recently with someone who appears no to read either proper books or ebooks - don't ask, but he heard a report on the radio or TV or wherever, that basically said that ebooks really need to get serious and start putting covers on their books. I responded, WTF, reaching for both my kindle and my ipad and started to show him that everyone of the books I had downloaded had indeed got covers, black and white on the Kindle and in full glorious technicolour via the kindle app on the ipad!

See here for a few examples: https://twitter.com/#!/tomstronach/status/190453859418779648/photo/1

Anyway tweet me, cos I need to know If I'm going to have to settle in and then think of something half sensible to say in future.

xx

Penelope said...

Heeee....Hi Tom! Well, I did post that wacky cover with the blue bear. That's good for a laugh, right?

Of course all ebooks have covers! You might not notice them on your Kindle, but they are just as important when folks are choosing books at Amazon, B&N, any bookseller. It's the first thing folks see that represents that novel. If it's crappy looking, then folks assume your book is crap. If it's polished and professional looking, then it gives a much better impression of the book. It's super important for publishers to produce good quality covers. They affect sales, they are vital in promotion. It's a big deal.

Amber said...

Hi Penny! I agree with all your points but I think the last one is best. If a book (particularly a novel) is only going to make a few hundred bucks in its lifetime, then why is it being published at all? Presumably the administrative work, cover and editing cost as much as that (if they're doing it right, although we know some of them aren't). Flukes happen. Sometimes an editor can love a book, believe in it, and it will still flop. However, if that is the norm, then there is definitely something fishy.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Great post, I'm saving it!

Penelope said...

Hi Amber! Excellent point. What I find disheartening is that if you are a new author and you are offered a contract by an epub, and you ask for average sales statistics (average first month, first year, etc) very few (if any) are willing to give you these numbers. Why?

Penelope said...

Thanks, Julie!

Penelope said...

TD Jones....I just saw your comment! Thanks for stopping by! :^)

Savannah Chase said...

Fantastic post. I think you said what a lot of authors have thought about.We work hard and we need out companies to work just as hard.

Penelope said...

Hi Savannah! Yes, I agree. Which is why I was channeling Janet Jackson....What have you done for ME late-ly?

Love her!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9uizdKZAGE

Kate said...

I'm starting up a publishing company, and eBooks will be a big part of it. Thanks for this article, which reinforced some of the ideas I have and taught me some new things as well.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Couldn't say it better myself. I'm already doing all this work - why not get all the money for my work? It's not like a publisher is out promoting my books or mentioning my awards or my great reviews. And I've had some covers that stunk to high heaven.
If you want something done right, learn how to do it right and do it yourself.
You said what needed to be said, Tom's quest for porn and alcohol notwithstanding...

Penelope said...

Hi Kate! Good luck with your new company. I wish you lots of success. Be good to your authors. Be good to your readers! :^) (And don't put weird blue bears on the front covers....you'll be fine!)

Penelope said...

Hi Julia! It's ironic that by forcing their authors to do all these jobs ourselves, the epubs actually trained us all to become our own businesses. And now they're bummed because we're leaving. We had to design our own covers, do our own promo, much of the editing and proof-reading. So, it's no wonder so many authors are self-pubbing. And the publishing revolution continues...

Darlene Marshall said...

Penelope, I love that point that you made to Julia: by forcing authors to do so much of this for themselves, the epub companies have no room to whine if authors wake up one morning and realize they don't need their publisher anymore. As long as I get more value from my publisher than I get on my own, it's a good working relationship.

Penelope said...

Yes, Darlene....that is the key point. I know plenty of authors who really just want to focus on the writing. They love having an agent and a publisher to take care of all the other stuff. The smaller pubs forced their authors to assume much of the responsibility for sales and promotion. They need to make it worth our while to stick with them....really excellent cover art, getting reviews at places like RT which wouldn't look at small self-pubbed books, promoting their best writers on their websites. The tide is shifting, and I wonder who will step up. Maybe Penny Romance Press? Hee hee...not yet. Wait 10 years. ;^)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great advice. SO with you on the cover.

Tasha B. said...

Preach it, girl, preach it.

The entire purpose of publishing companies, both e- and paper, is to help polish and promote an author's work. If their editing is crap, they don't promote your work, and they limit sales through pricing, DRM, and formatting, why on earth would you put all the hard work of your words into their hands?

Lillian Grant said...

Well said.

As an author I couldn't agree more with all your comments.

Lillian Grant
www.lilliangrant.com

Penelope said...

Hi Juju....yeah, that cover. Oy!

Penelope said...

Tasha....I'm preaching, baby! I think those small presses are going to have to step it up big time, or perish.

Penelope said...

Hi Lillian! Thanks for stopping by.

Minx Malone said...

Thank you for saying this so much better than I ever could have. This post covers most of what's wrong with e-publishers today. I REALLY wish I could send this to certain ones directly!

And your "bad" cover up there almost made me spit my coffee out!

Penelope said...

Hi Minx! Thanks for stopping by. There were so many bad covers, I had a hard time choosing just one.

Aubrey Watt said...

I am constantly amazed at how bad some of the covers are for publishing houses. I've gotten much better at GIMP just over the past few months, but if there are any self-pubbers out there who are scared to get started I made a basic tutorial on how to do book covers yourself: http://aubreywatt.com/custom-ebook-covers/how-to-make-a-free-ebook-cover-in-gimp/

Hopefully it can help some people who are struggling to try and make decent looking book covers in (gasp!) MSPaint or the like. GIMP's a steep learning curve but well worth it.

Penelope said...

Aubrey....good for you! Thanks so much for the link. I know. This is my whole problem w/ crappy covers. Go simple. It's not that hard to produce a simple cover. So why are these small presses making covers that look like a comedy sketch? I don't know. Maybe it's part of their diabolical marketing plan to attract attention by having hideously ugly covers that people make fun of, and then will possibly buy the book because of a curiosity factor. ??????