Saturday, April 30, 2011

Devil In The Details: Smashwords V. BookBaby

After my first go round with BookBaby I got a lot of comments and discussions, so here we are back again looking more closely.

For those of you who didn't read the first article, BookBaby is a new option on the market for self publishers. Basically, they're a one stop location to get your book into the hands of a decent number of stores.  Smashwords does this as well.  For BookBaby you pay up front.  For Smashwords you pay a percentage of each sale.

After my first overview, I had come to the conclusion that BookBaby was a legitimate way for an author who sells enough books (defined as enough to cover the cost of your set up fee) to make money.  And, while that conclusion is still true, a deeper look at the numbers shows that any author who takes this route has to sell A LOT of books at one store.

With BookBaby you get 100% of your royalties.  With Smashwords they take 10%  (or 15% if you are selling on their site).  With BookBaby you pay $99.00 (on sale now, usually $149.00) for them to take your .doc and turn it into an ebook.  Smashwords does it for free, and then gets paid based on what you sell.  With that sort of model, if you sell enough books, you'll do better on BookBaby then you will on Smashwords.  Which is where I left it last time.  Unfortunately that's more truthy than true.
Let's get deeper into the numbers (These numbers represent how much of the cover price of your novel you get to keep):

On the iBookstore:
BookBaby: 70%
Smashwords: 60%

Barnes and Noble:
BookBaby: 50%
Smashwords: 60%

Sony Ebookstore:
BookBaby: 50%
Smashwords: 60%

It's not that BookBaby is secretly keeping some of the cash.  It just hasn't managed to negotiate as good a deal with it's distributors as Smashwords has.  So, as it was pointed out to me, and I'll now point out to you, you've got to sell a lot of books, on the iBookstore, to make more money with BookBaby than you would with Smashwords.  Is it possible?  Sure.  Is it likely?  No, not really.

One other advantage in BookBaby's court, they will upload to Amazon for you.  Smashwords currently has the options listed, but apparently that option doesn't actually do anything.  If you do Amazon with BookBaby, you get exactly the same deal you would if you went straight to Amazon.  And while uploading to Amazon is nice, if you have the skills to upload your document to BookBaby, you've got the skills to upload it on Amazon for yourself and save $99.00. 

Now, let me add a little more shine to Smashwords.  A: Smashwords has it's own sales platform as well as distribution channels.  B:  Free coupons.  You can do them on Smashwords and they are great for publicity and getting copies of your book to reviewers.  C: Smashwords distributes to Diesel and Kobo on top of everywhere BookBaby does except Amazon. 

So, until BookBaby manages to negotiate some better royalty rates with it's non-iBookstore distributors, I'd suggest sticking with Smashwords.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Indie Book Review: Nearly Departed In Deadwood

Nearly Departed in Deadwood was not what I was expecting.  Between the cover, the title, and the paranormal tags, I was expecting zombies and some sort of mad necromancer tied into a mystery with missing kids.  And with the early set up of the crusty, old guy who lives way out of town in a farm house with a huge pile of shot guns, hearing odd sounds coming from out behind his barn, I was planning out how the main characters were going to end up holing up there, with the huge arsenal and blasting the hell out of the zombies.  

But, title, cover, and tags aside, this is a romantic mystery.  Violet Parker has returned to Deadwood, SD.  She's starting life over again, got her realtor's license, and moved herself and her kids in with her aunt.  And so far, this new life is none too rosy.  She's got an absolute asshole co-worker, who rapidly jumps up to the top of everyone's better off dead list, (I was looking forward to seeing the zombies eat him, alas, no zombies.) a completely empty appointment book, and if she doesn't sell a house in three weeks, she'll get fired.   On top of it, little girls are going missing.  Three of them in the last year.  And they all look a whole lot like her daughter.  In a town as small as Deadwood, Violet's worried for her own daughter's safety.

Then, within one day, things start to look up.  Men (and real estate clients) start pouring from the sky. The aforementioned crusty, old guy from out on the plains is looking to sell.  One of the richest men in town walks into Calamity Jane Real Estate, asking for her to sell his house.  He's tall, blonde, gorgeous, and runs a jewelry store that makes its own pieces.  Basically, he's perfect.  Alas, the house is not.  It's old, decrepit, spooky, rumored to be haunted, and before she can even start to see about fixing it up to sell, she's got weeks' worth of paperwork to do with the town because it's a protected historic building.  The tall, dark, and handsome mystery man from the store next door decides he's in the market for a house, too.  And then, on top of all of that, she starts getting mystery presents from a secret admirer.  A really creepy secret admirer.

So, all the characters are in play.  The two main plotlines, tall, dark, and handsome or tall, blond, and gorgeous, and what is happening to the little girls get running and twist together.  Like any good mystery we get some red herrings, and, of course, the real herring is wearing a tuna costume, so you can't tell he's the one until the last possible second.  

If you want a mystery you could possibly solve on your own, this isn't it.  At all.  Obviously, because of the way it's set up, Violet is going to figure out who is kidnapping the girls, which means it has to be someone else we meet along the way.  But beyond knowing it's got to be one of the characters, the reader is left in the dark. 

The romance swims along prettily.  Tension builds nicely.   Jewelry designer or mystery man?  Ahh... to have such options.   The sex was erotic and well written: no clich├ęs, anatomical impossibilities, or off putting euphemisms.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more of it, but given the time frame of the story and nature of the characters, the amount we got was just right. 

The writing and dialog runs the gamut of competent to exemplary.  The plot had at least one more thread than was necessary, but it might come into play in the next book of the series.  Characters are especially well developed, with even the secondary and tertiary characters being fully drawn and alive.    And for the serious romance fans it has to be a happily for now instead of happily ever after because this is book one of a series.   For the most part, I was very satisfied by this story.

My main complaint, and this probably won't continue onto the next book in the series, is it's not really paranormal.  It's not enough to have a paranormal aspect of the book; it has to actually do something with the plot.  The expectation of paranormal lends a tension to the story that is never brought to fruition.  Now, since this is book one, this is probably just the set up round, and it will come into play more heavily in the next books, but for this one, the psychic ability of the one character isn't really necessary.  The fact that he can talk to dead people is entirely extraneous for the plot of this story.  That he can do this being kept hidden for so long is also not necessary. 

But if you like romantic mysteries with a tinge of paranormal creepiness, this one is well worth your time. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Indie Book Review; Expert Assistance

Sit back and imagine, if you will, a story where Lazarus Long, Hannah Montanna, and Marvin the Paranoid Android on prozac get together to liberate a planet.  Got that image in your head?  Sounds like fun doesn't it?  Yep.  Reading it was fun, too.

Jake, the main character is something of a cross between Han Solo and Lazarus Long.  Like Han he's in financial trouble.  Like Lazarus he seems to have seen and done everything at least once.  And like both of them he exudes a sense of fond grouchiness at the naive-cute-and-fuzzy-puppy types that keep tripping through his life.

Like Lazarus, Jake has a sentient computer/spaceship with a brain the size of a planet.  This one is not depressed, but does seem to have a dry sense of humor and irony sensors on overdrive.  Odin, in addition to knowing basically everything that ever was recorded, also has teleporter technology, can build almost anything, and crack basically any code.  As you can imagine, Odin is a very good friend to have.  Odin was built as a military vessel.  He became sentient and decided he did not want to be a warship.  Jake found him floating abandoned in the middle of space, probably bought him some fuel, and the two have been together since.

And now, looking for some fast money, Jake has a new job.  Two new jobs really.  One is shuttling Evvie Martini (Hannah Montanna, down to her dyed hair) from gig to gig.  The other is helping the people of Antioch Two throw off  Sordius Maxi, the owner of their planet.

Of course, eventually Evvie finds out about the revolution, gets involved, and a cute little tale that can be described as "Yay Liberty!" ensues.  The story is more or less the fictional equivalent of kettle corn.  It's sweet, crunchy, yummy, but not exactly nutritious.

Here's why.  In the past I've mentioned something called power balance.  So, let's talk a little more about plot and power balance.   For a plot to work, the good guys and the bad guys need a shot at winning.  It can be a one in a million shot, that's good reading, too.  But unless you want to study some sort of human emotion, (ie lit fic) the guys on one side can't so completely overpower the guys on the other to the point where the guys on the other have absolutely no shot at winning.  Sure the struggle of David V. Goliath is good reading, but the struggle between Goliath and the quadriplegic toddler isn't.  The toddler has no chance at all.

Maxi never had a shot.  Odin isn't so much taking a gun to a knife fight as taking a tank and making sure that Omniscient God Almighty is driving it.  Maxi was so far out gunned by that computer it wasn't funny.  And to throw the power balance off even further, Maxi is a lot more like Fredo Corleone than Michael.

There's no tension to this plot, because there's no real danger.  There's no chance the revolution won't work.  There's no possibility of any of the main characters being in any danger.  Because of that, none of the main characters experience any real change.  And why would they?  Nothing was really risked.  Evvie is just a childish at the beginning of the revolution as she is in the end.  The rebels are just as clueless; they never had to learn anything.  Odin, well, he's already the pinnacle of intellectual evolution, so there was nowhere for him to go.  Jake has no deeper understanding of anything because he knew it all to begin with. 

If you'll forgive the comparison, this is not Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  It's not even close.

When discussing revolution it's hard to avoid politics.  This was a fairly innocuous screed against commercialism, without being insulting or annoying.  I'm about as far off on my side of the political spectrum as it's possible to get, and I didn't find the political content too bothersome.  I doubt anyone else who can still claim to be somewhere on the rational scale would either.

So, if you want a cute and safe read, an adventure where you know everyone comes home just peachy and the good guys are guaranteed to win, this one's for you.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Self Publish With BookBaby

So, a new player on the self-publish ebook market is up.  Lets take a moment to see how BookBaby works.

The basic lay out is fairly similar to Smashwords, you upload a document, they turn it into an .epub, and send it off to the Apple Store, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Reader (Sony store.)

Now, here's the difference, you pay BookBaby $99.00 (on sale right now, usually $149.00) upfront.  Then each additional year you pay them $19.  And you've got to pay them $19 for an ISBN (unless you already own one).  Then you get 100% of your sales (minus Amazon's, B&N, Apple's, or Reader's cut).  With Smashwords you pay 0 upfront, have no upkeep fees, and get a free ISBN.  You keep 85% of your sales (once again, minus the seller's cut).  So, using some really simple math here, if you make one dollar per sale, you've got to sell one hundred and eighteen books before you break even on BookBaby.  But once you've sold those 118 books, all your income is profit.

Meanwhile, if you make $1.00 per book, and Smashwords takes their fifteen cents, you have to sell six hundred and sixty books before you've paid Smashwords  $99 in royalties.  Then you have to sell and additional 127 copies in each additional year to even the $19 maintenance fee.  And another 127 to cover the cost of the ISBN.

So, here goes.  You sell one hundred books for a dollar a piece.  On Bookbaby, you've made one dollar.  On Smashwords, you've made 85.  For the next hundred books on BookBaby, you're at 101 dollars, on Smashwords you're at 170.  For the next hundred you get to 201 and 255.  Next hundred 301 and 340, and on and on, the number gets closer and closer until BookBaby pulls ahead. 

So, the question is, what's the value of money in your hands versus potential money?  It's entirely possible that you'll sell those kinds of numbers if you've written a good book and put the work into promoting it.  (And, of course the more you sell your book for, the fewer books you have to sell to break even.)  If you've already got a half decent following, this may be a great way to go.  At the same time, especially if you're just breaking into the ebook market, you might want to go with Smashwords first.  At least that way you aren't paying for distribution out of hand.

BookBaby also charges you to add images, charts, graphs, and more than thirty interactive chapters to your table of contents.  Things like that feel nickle and dimey to me.  (All are free on Smashwords.)  But the prices aren't outrageous, and if you're banging your head against a wall trying to get the Smashwords Meatgrinder to work, spending an extra $100 for picture formatting might not seem like a big deal.

This is another calculation you need to do, which is worth more, your time or your money?  It took me three hours to get my Word .doc all set for the Meatgrinder.  With BookBaby I would have skipped most of that (You do have to do some of your own format fixing for BookBaby, and if your copy is really messed up, they do charge you to get in into shape.) and just sent them $99, and they would have done it.   Depending on what you'd normally make in an hour, you may save money by sending your manuscript off to BookBaby.

Unlike Smashwords they offer ebook cover design for $99 or $199 depending on how fancy you want to get.  The covers on the gallery looked fine, and that's a decent, but not fantastic, price for the offerings.  Or you can upload your own for free.

All in all, I'd say BookBaby looks like a valuable new option on the ebookery front.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Three Things You (Well I) Didn't Know About Advances

In the great Indie v. Trad debate one thing that always comes up in the pro column for the Traditional Method is the author's advance.  And really, who's going to argue about that?  You get a publisher interested in your book, and then he gives you a pile of money.  It's Yog's Law's perfect application.

Except...  And of course you know there has to be an except...

First off, you don't get all that money at once.  You get paid in installments, often three, one chunk when the project is accepted, one when you finish it, and one when it hits stores.  This makes sense; the publisher wants to make sure he gets an actual book out of you.  But at the same time, you're probably looking at a year or two before you've gotten all the money.  Even a six figure advance doesn't look like all that much if you realize that's your entire income for the two years until your book hits the shelves and however long it takes to earn out the advance.  Say you get a 200k advance, once you paid your taxes on it (almost 20% in FICA and Medicare alone, plus whatever federal, state, and local) and divide that by say (optimistically) four years.  It's not exactly vast riches.

Secondly, that money is not just what you're living on, it's what you're using to promote your book.  It's possible that if you're a big name, the publisher will set up book tours, speaking appearances, and the like for you.  But if you're the kind of person reading this, you aren't that big of a name.   If you're the kind of writer reading this and you want a book tour, you're paying for it out of that advance.  

Thirdly, that advance is often all the money you're ever going to see from that book.  An advance is supposedly your earnings paid to you before you earn them.  A loan, really.  Now, in most cases, somewhere in that contract will be something saying that if you don't earn out (your book doesn't sell enough copies to make you the advance) in a certain time (say three years) they own the book.  What does that mean?  It means that if you don't make back the advance, you never see any additional royalties on your work.  Basically, your book is the collateral on that loan, and if it's not repaid in time, they get to keep it.  So, say your book is earning a few hundred a month, not enough to have earned out your advance in the time allotted, but still it's a steady stream of income.  Would you rather that money be going into your pocket or theirs?

Now, money in your hand now is worth more than potential money later on.  But, when you're debating Indie or Trad, you need to go in with your eyes open and understand what those dollars really mean.