Hot (off the Press)

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On Plans & Agility & Ippy Awards

Updated Wisdom Tree cover featuring gold Ippy seal

This post was, as of even as late as mid-April, intended to announce the availability of the second installment of Nick Earls’ The True Story of Butterfish. I’m looking very forward to uploading those installments and sharing that book with you, but barely more than a week ago we learned, as we shared last post, that Wisdom Tree had won the Independent Publishers gold Ippy award for Best Adult Fiction ebook.

That night, I got to talk to Nick by phone for the first time. We’ve been working together for going on seven years now, but all our communication has been digital. It’s mostly logistical; given Nick’s location, he lives not only around the world but technically tomorrow from me most of the time, and that’s not to mention that though a cell phone can call basically anywhere, they’ll sure charge you for it, and I think I paid nearly five bucks a minute to deliver the good news by voice (WORTH IT).

Within that initial excitement we were still able to discuss current plans a bit, enough to note that we’d planned for Butterfish‘s launch in just a few days, and to rethink that. We’re excited to make it available digitally, and hopefully for it to find a new audience.

In fact, that’s what we’ve been hoping for ages; that Nick’s work will find a new audience. I’ve long held that Nick’s work deserves it — I’m thrilled that Nick has one in his native Australia, but his work isn’t so very Australia-specific that it should find its only audience there.

That’s why we’re holding off on Butterfish for now.

The Ippy award is big. There are an incredible amount of entries, and previous awards have recognized authors like Dave Eggers and Ayelet Waldman and publishers like McSweeney’s, Grove, and Dzanc. It’s basically a who’s who in indie publishing.

So it’s a huge honor for Exciting Press (and me) for Nick’s work to be recognized in that context. We want to celebrate Nick and that recognition.

Which is why we’re for the moment postponing Butterfish. We want to focus for a few weeks on this cooler than cool (ice cold) news.

The good news is that’s the benefit of agility, and Exciting Press. We may be small, but we can pivot quickly when we need to, update sales info and cover images within hours, instead of days or even weeks.

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Platform Games

So, how are ebooks doing, really? In recent years, we’ve heard stories – maybe even seen data – that say sales have peaked and are declining, but are they? I wanted to get behind the headlines and find out what was really going on. And it turned out to be more interesting, and more complicated, than some of us might have expected.

For ebook sales to peak, or appear to peak, first they had to surge. Ebooks dawdled for the first few years of this century while we all waited for a user-friendly ereading platform. The Kindle arrived in late 2007, and ebook sales took off, provoking a response from established publishers that amounted to around 2/3 fear and 1/3 excitement. Maybe slightly more fear. Then the iPad came along in 2010, and soon tablets were everywhere, and a great platform for reading. So, over a period of maybe four years, ereading soared.

What’s happened since?

Some technological evolutions, but no revolution. Bigger phone screens mean more phone reading, but that’s not as big a deal as Kindles and tablets. In the absence of great tech leaps forward, there haven’t been the drivers of ereading that kicked in a few years ago.

On top of that, big publishers changed their deal with Amazon on pricing ebooks. And they put their prices up. Amazon had spent years habituating ebook purchasers to a $9.99 ceiling, and prices above this proved a barrier to quite a few. Also, publishers shifted their ebook prices much closer to their paperback prices, drawing readers back to paperbacks.

But that’s far from the whole story. The ebook market was also evolving.

Those stats you see on falling ebook sales? They’re almost all from a limited range of sources, none of which measures the ebook market as well as it measures the paper book market – Nielsen surveys, Association of American Publishers figures, other studies tracking sales by ISBN. When paper books were the market, those measures stacked up reasonably well. But they don’t for ebooks. The AAP might have 1200 members, but it’s not the ebook market, which has an uncountable number of indie publishers, self-publishers and other people bringing books to market without AAP membership or ISBNs. The Kindle Store is full of books that are ducking under the stats radar, and it’s not the only place that works that way. The quarterly updates at the Author Earnings website give a much better idea than some of the figures that are widely talked about.

The book industry is split in two: the companies the mainstream media  often view as the book industry, and the epublishers who are happily doing business anyway and, overall, selling many millions of books a year. While newspaper articles often say ebook sales are falling, they’re actually still growing, if you add them all up, even if not at the spectacular rate they were in 2010-2012.

For the foreseeable future, books will come on paper and as a digital ebook file – and audiobook file – and authors need to think through at least all these formats, if not more.

In my PhD-student capacity, I’ve  written way more about that here at TEXT, but it also made sense to drop in here and spell some of it out, and to say it’s clear that ebooks aren’t going away. Many of the prophets of doom may have a vested interest or have skim-read the stats. Whatever the reason, I think they’ve got it wrong. The ebook market is evolving, as it was always going to, but it remains a place where authors need to be and where readers will go to find them.

 

Nick Earls was the second author signed by Exciting Press, and the first who didn’t also own the company. His novella series, Wisdom Tree, has just been awarded the Adult Fiction Ebook gold medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Vancouver, one of the novellas in the series is currently shortlisted in the Christina Stead Prize at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and also a contender for the People’s Choice Award. We’re not going to be subtle about it. Please click here and choose it, people!

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Nick Earls Wins the Ippy Award

According to my Gmail account, I wrote to Nick Earls just two days ago that, though we had submitted for the Ippy awards (and I thought we had a good shot), we sadly hadn’t been selected.

A couple of weeks back, you see, I got an email from the Ippy folks about whitelists and subscriptions. Apparently Gmail often sends their emails straight to spam. And there they all are, in my spam folder: “Yes, you are an Ippy Award medalist!”

Dated 4/17.

Earlier today, while I was at my dayjob, I was in a meeting when I noticed I’d gotten a call that had gone to voicemail. Which Siri/Apple helpfully transcribed — about as well as anyone might transcribe an interview with the current US president. Which is to say it was garbled and there might have been three complete sentences among a dozen, with lots of ellipses and some random nonsensical tangents.

What stuck out was “good news” and “congratulate.”

So I returned the call AND THAT WAS WHEN I DISCOVERED WISDOM TREE WON AN IPPY AWARD FOR BEST ADULT FICTION EBOOK.

http://www.independentpublisher.com/article.php?page=2175

I mean holy shit.

I missed the selection because I wasn’t looking at regional/ebook. But there it is.

I’ve known Nick’s work for more than 15 years now. I read Perfect Skin just weeks after moving back in with my parents after 9/11.

I’ve been working with Nick for going on five years. Nick is the reason Exciting Press is a thing, a business, an entity. Nick was the first author besides me I signed on to publish.

And honestly, I’m one to take big bites before I know what I’m doing. I’m lucky that Nick has been patient while I’ve grown and explored and figured out what Exciting Press is and how we work. Nick is a brilliant author I’m honored and challenged to work with because working with him means I need to do better.

What I like is that that’s true of all the authors I work with. They’re all amazing, and as their publisher it’s a challenge to do better by them. To keep revising formats and covers and strategies and approach to continually improve to be sure that awesome work is getting what it needs.

I’m so proud Wisdom Tree won Best Adult Fiction Ebook. Because Nick had a vision, and challenged me with making it reality. With making a great ebook.

I talked to Nick just a little while ago to tell him the news. I hope he could sense my palpable excitement, and I hope his excitement only increases.

We made a great ebook. An Ippy-award-winning ebook.

I couldn’t be more proud or excited.

Do check Wisdom Tree out. It’s wonderful.

Don’t take my word for it. Or Nick’s. It won an Ippy.

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No Expectations & The True Story of Butterfish

At this point, we probably have to call this launch one of the marshmallow variety, given how it’s going. I’m working to tweak and fill in pages behind the scenes while trying to keep up with the publishing (that’s the real work) behind those scenes, and meanwhile there’s life and taxes and housework and day jobs to attend to.

But anything worth doing is worth doing well, and anything worth building is worth building solidly. As my father would tell me.

This summer, Exciting Press has at least two brand new titles on the way: Miya Kressin’s great new No Expectations and Nick Earls’ truly excellent The True Story of Butterfish, as I mentioned a week or so back.

And I mentioned an Easter egg, and now that it’s Easter, I think it’s only appropriate to reveal it.

The astute among you will have caught the “1” there on the No Expectations reveal. And if you didn’t you can see it right there in the cover.

We’ll be serializing it. In five parts, starting on the first day of summer.

We’ll be doing the same thing with The True Story of Butterfish, as well as Nick’s other novel Analogue Men. No cover reveal there, because I’ve been working on the text first and haven’t gotten to the cover yet. You can, however, expect a late summer/early autumn release for that one. As far as I know, both will mark the first publications of those two novels outside Australia and New Zealand (where Nick’s huge).

We’re doing it as an experiment, much as Nick’s Wisdom Tree novella collection was. But keep an eye out, and expect to see installments announcements as we go.

We’ll also be looking at doing pre-orders.

And I’m saying “looking at” and “experiment” because I’m not yet sure about this format, but I’ve talked to both Nick and Miya about it and both have been encouragingly excited about it.

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Kindle Create: The Best Thing to Happen to eBooks Since Kindle (if you don’t have Vellum)

Yesterday, I saw  The Digital Reader  post about a new Amazon-created tool for publishing on the Kindle platform, called Kindle Create. The screenshot (right) looked both simple and cool. A what-you-see-is-what-you-get tool that could help turn a Word doc into a Kindle ebook. I’m a total publishing geek, so I was excited all day to get home so that I could download it and try it for myself —

And it’s exactly as described. You import a Word doc, it runs some likely fancy algorithms, and BOOM nicely formatted Kindle book with guesses at elements like new chapters and such.

I’m not sure how the screenshot is appearing for you, but the interface is nice. It’s a simple menu, and then there are three columns:

Contents – which appears to be mostly navigational, and lets you flip through the book based on its chapterination (that’s not a word, but pagination is, and this is based on chapters, not pages, so there).

Preview – which you can move the cursor within, highlight and delete and add.

Text properties – which is basically formatting, so you can highlight something in the preview and change it to a different element. Like make a heading a subtitle, or something.

I downloaded and played with it for ten minutes. I imported a complete copy of Miya Kressin’s No Expectations, which I’m going to be working in this weekend to lay out and design, and it seemed to get most everything right. It broke out the chapters well, maintained section breaks, and where it didn’t it was fairly obvious what I should be highlighting to change so that I could format elements correctly.

From that ten minutes, I’ll say this: it’s fantastic. It’s easy to use, easy to understand, and it has all the basic elements necessary to import a Word doc, change formatting you can see, and export a file ready to upload to Kindle.

There’s an important word in that sentence, and it’s “basic.”

If Kindle Create had been available, say, six months ago, I think I might have adopted it and never looked back. It’s that good. Like Kindle, it’s platform agnostic, available for both Windows and MacOS as Kindle is available for everything from Amazon’s own e-readers to iPads to Android to etc.

And “essential” may be a better word than “basic.” It’s got everything essential you need, and there’s something to be said for essential. Without digging too deeply into it, I don’t see a way to change the design of the “Separation,” but hey three black diamonds is as good a signifier as any.

I specify “without digging too deeply into it” because it may include others, but I just didn’t see them. Just like I think it can handle pictures and videos, but I wouldn’t see that because I don’t really deal with those.

But recently I’ve been using Vellum. I use switched to Apple’s ecosystem after one too many Windows laptops crashed on me and several too many Android phones went without upgrades to the latest, most secure versions, so I didn’t mind that Vellum is a Mac-only program. So is iTunes Producer, which is the only way to upload your book directly to the iBookstore.

Which is what I do. Where Exciting Press ebooks are available on different platforms (we’re still building out), they’ve been uploaded directly to those platforms. Mainly because there are four, total (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and B&N).

Among those four, Amazon not only has the most marketshare but also the best experience for readers. Honestly, sometimes it feels like Amazon is the only ebook retailer that cares about readers and the experience of reading.

So maybe concentrating there isn’t a bad thing. That’s something for authors to decide for themselves. For authors who are fine with Amazon exclusivity, Kindle Create seems pretty great. Also, Amazon being Amazon, the algorithms that guess chapter breaks seems pretty spot on.

I’m not sure the final file is easily converted to an ePub, though — which may not be surprising, as ePub as a file format is awful. So backwards and difficult to format. (It’s no wonder all the corporate publishers chose it as their “standard” — long after the market had already decided on a different standard on its own.)

Also, Kindle Create is free. That’s huge. Vellum is better, with deeper formatting options, but it also costs $200 for a copy that is available only for Mac.