Is Good Information Worth Paying For?

Pricing books, especially eBooks, is something of a challenge. There are a lot of blog posts and articles written about it, because it seems to be a common question. I know it was for me, and actually, I still sometimes wonder if I’ve priced my eBooks just right.

There are some guides out there about pricing according to the number of words, but this is mostly for fiction. Experienced writers seem to agree that people are willing to pay more for nonfiction, because of the perceived usefulness of the information. That made sense to me, but I’ve been wondering lately if that’s really true.

I’m saying this because of a number of customer reviews that state that $0.99 or $1.99 is overpriced for information that can be found for “free” on the internet. In spite of that, I think part of the problem is that the consumer knows there are no print costs involved in producing an eBook. Unfortunately, they place little or no value on the author’s time. When I consider the number of hours I spend researching (both on the internet and off), sorting through and organizing the information, writing, creating a glossary and list of resources, and then putting it together in a thorough, logical, and easily accessible manner, I’m more than a little amazed. I’d be willing to go toe to toe with most of what’s free on the internet, confident that I’ve produced a more useful product.

A fellow homestead writer has turned to writing fiction because, she says, it sells better than her homestead eBooks. Considering the popularity of homesteading, this makes me wonder if people are really willing to pay more for useful information; perhaps people are willing to pay more for entertainment.

I do find that my How To Bake Without Baking Powder sells more print copies than electronic. To me, this makes sense, because useful information keeps better as hard copy. It’s physical location (my bookshelves) makes it easy to find, I don’t have to recharge anything to read it, and there’s no worry of losing the information if my device goes.

So what’s the answer to the question? Is good information worth paying for? I suspect the answer is subjective, but I’d be interested in your opinion.

Promotional Gimmicks – Have They Outlived Their Usefulness?

I’ve held a number of book giveaways since I started publishing. I’ve always considered them a good way to get the word out and certainly worth the cost of a book or two. I never considered them gimmicks, however, it was just a straightforward opportunity for someone to win a free book. After all, word of mouth and a personal recommendation is a better promotional tool than advertising’s fanciest bells and whistles.

When I finished publishing the Critter Tales Series eBooks, I had the idea to ask readers to hold giveaways. They would get free copies of the volumes they wanted to give away. They simply had to host the giveaway and email me the winner’s email address so I could send them a link to their prize. It seemed like a win-win. It has been interesting that none of these giveaways have generated a lot of interest. One gal told me she’d pretty much stopped doing giveaways altogether, because they are a lot of work but no one really seems interested in participating.

I think what’s happened is that giveaways have turned into gimmicks and everyone knows it. To enter most giveaways you have to sign up, follow, like, and sometimes jump through a few other hoops. I never asked readers to do any of these things, because I don’t collect email addresses, don’t do a newsletter, and don’t try to follow up to see if I can get them to buy since they didn’t win. I’ll usually offer a discount code for anyone who wants to take advantage of it, but that’s their business.

Marketing experts say you need to get an email list going by offering a freebie in exchange for an email address. As a website visitor and reader, I know this means I’ll start getting regular emails, almost all of which are advertising for whatever they’re trying to sell. Don’t get me wrong, I think being able to have an internet business is a great way to work from home. I’m all for that. The trouble is, most sales approaches are way too pushy.

I do a lot of research on the internet, follow a lot of links, and read a lot of articles. Nothing is more annoying than just getting started and then having a pop-up block my view because it wants me to sign up for their email list. I’ll get a free copy of thus-and-such and be the first to know about all their special offers. But I haven’t even read the first article yet, so how do I know they have anything to say that’s worth signing up for? Then the same pop-up appears on every page I visit. It’s rude, annoying, and it doesn’t take long before I’m outta there. Unfortunately, this is another common gimmick.

I reckon I’m just a square. I believe that good information on my bookshelves is worth paying for, and that’s what I try to offer. I’d rather give a straightforward description of what the reader can expect and then let them make up their own minds. The trouble with modern marketing is that making money has become more important than offering a quality product or service. The consequences are that almost everyone is becoming immune to advertising and its gimmicks. I know I no longer believe the hype I read or hear in the sales pitch. The challenge for someone like me is how to get straightforward information out there; how to compete with all the marketing “noise” that fills the web. I can’t say I have it figured out, but this is what I believe in, so this is how I’ll keep doing it.

Updating a Previously Published Book in CreateSpace

This little tidbit is something I recently ran across in the CreateSpace Community Fourms. It was exciting to me, because I thought that once in print, I could change nothing in a book. With the writing and publication of more books since the first one, however, I longed to add an “Also By” page to that very first book.

Well, apparently I can. And apparently it’s just a matter of uploading a corrected interior file from my CreateSpace dashboard. What could be easier than that?

There were a few other things that bugged me about that first book: two blatant misspellings and numerous punctuation errors. Being able to also correct these is a tremendous relief. For the most part my reviewers have kindly overlooked these, although there have been a few who have given me poor customer ratings because of them. Just being able to make a more professional appearance is important. If I do something, I want to do it well.

This does seem that the more I look at the manuscript the more things I find. I am currently steeped in the world of properly placed periods and commas in quote marks, curly quotes versus straight quotes, en and em dashes, etc. Other things, such as spelling out numbers versus using numerals, I’m leaving alone. I don’t want to change the text, just correct the spelling and clarify the punctuation. That plus the “Also By” page is enough I think.

First Series Success

Whew. That turned out to be a lot of work. But at last I can announce that Critter Tales is now out as an eBook series.

ctseries_webpageIt’s webpage can be found here.

Preparing the book interiors and covers was a job, and so was getting web pages built for each volume. Now comes the work of getting the word out. Next I’ll tackle 5 Acres & A Dream The Book as a four- or so part series. There’s no rest for the indie author.

Bundles and Series

Bundles and series are two publishing devices for eBooks that seem to work well for both readers and authors. I’m just starting to branch out in both directions.

A bundle (also called a box set or omnibus) is a collection of short related works. These are usually priced more economically than the individual volumes making them a good buy for someone who likes a particular author and the subject they are writing on.

goat_bundle1When I published the first volumes of my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, it was fellow homestead author and blogger Anna Hess who suggested that I bundle them when I’d written enough. The other day I realized I’d done just that. I have five goat related how-tos on offer, enough to bundle and offer at a 4-for-3 price.

There is only one set of front and back matter, with the individual eBooks treated as sections. I combined the photos from the four eBook covers to create a new cover, but I still kept my overall series look.

One question authors ask is whether to include their bundle as another volume in the series. I decided against that because it isn’t a separate volume, but a combination of volumes. My solution was to call it a new series, “The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos Bundled Editions.” Not particularly clever, but a search engine will bring up both options so I think it’s a good one!

My other project is to create a series of eBooks from Critter Tales. A series is just that, a long work broken down into shorter segments. Oftentimes the first eBook of the series is sharply discounted or even free. This gives readers a chance to sample a new author. If they like what they read, they are likely to be willing to buy the rest of the series. Or in my case, they can simply buy the tales for the critters they are interested in. I’m tentatively calling my series “Critter Tales Series.”

concerning_critters_cover350x233Critter Tales lends itself well to this idea, because the sets of tales focus on one type of critter each and can make stand-alone reading. Pictured on the right is the cover idea I have.

I think cover design is important, and this is similar enough to the paperback so as to offer instant recognition. eBook covers are a different ratio than paperback covers, so that allowed me to adapt the cover images and highlight the one pertaining to the subject.

“Concerning Critters” is the title of the paperback’s introduction, so it will be my free offering to the reading community. The various sets of tales will be priced according to length.

This project is rather slow going at the moment, because eBooks require a different setup than print. This means I need to create a fluid file for uploading, and photos make this more challenging than text-only documents. My goal is to have it all done and released well before Christmas.

Inconvenient Quirks of LibreOffice 3.5

Firstly, let me acknowledge that my operating system is somewhat dated. Not outdated (as in obsolete), but not the newest and brightest version. Consequently, some of my software are older versions. I’m not sure if what I’m about to write has been corrected in an updated version of LibreOffice or not. I certainly hope so, because for eBook publishing as .doc files, it’s the best Ubuntu has to offer.

The problem? This

LO culprit1It’s that little paragraph mark that you wouldn’t even see unless I clicked on the “Nonprinting Characters” button before taking my screenshot.

LO_culprit3

This is actually a very useful tool for an author, because it shows me the formatting of my document: spaces between words (or extra spaces), paragraphs, tabs (a no-no in eBook publishing, we’re supposed to use styles), stuff like that.

The problem is that the paragraph symbol is supposed to look like this

paragraph_symbolCan you see the difference? In the first photo the circled paragraph symbol is underlined and dark blue like the links are. In the last photo it’s plain black. What I have figured out is, that when it looks like a link it creates problems with whatever follows. It’s not a link, but somehow it influences the next paragraph when the eBooks are published.

One problem I’ve had is that the entire paragraph following such a symbol will have blue, underlined text. It doesn’t link to anywhere, but the formatting is the same as a link. Recently I encountered a new problem. Smashwords sent me a notice flagging ePub navigation issues with the table of contents in one of my Little Series books. For awhile I was stumped. All the links worked in my .doc file, so what was the problem in the ePub version? I finally realized that it was one of those blue underlined paragraph symbols. One of them was in the table of contents and the chapters following were the ones with issues. Once I corrected that, the problem was solved.

How do those paragraph symbols get that way? They happen every time I hit “enter” after linked text. Usually I put the links in last, but it happens if I’m updating or correcting.

So I’ve learned to check all my paragraph symbols before uploading a file for eBook conversion. After many hours of frustration, it’s a relief to finally find the answer. Hopefully the newer version of LibreOffice won’t have this problem.

Of Fonts and Fractions

Until I started formatting the interior file for my first print book, I pretty much took fonts for granted. After all, choosing a font was simply a matter of going to a drop-down menu and clicking on the one I liked. What could be easier than that? What I didn’t realize was that a font set must be built, one character at a time: letters, numerals, symbols, in regular, italic, bold; they are each designed and crafted to become beautiful tools to enhance our writing.

Some fonts are designed for easy reading on a computer screen. Others are designed to read better in print. All of them come with a license for use, and many of them are copyrighted, which means it’s possible that a royalty must be paid to use them. The fonts that come pre-installed on our computers are included in the license we receive with our operating system. That license covers computer and internet use of the fonts, but not necessarily use in print.

I set about trying to find open source fonts for my books from the beginning. The license for these allow their free use in all media. I found beautiful fonts that mirrored the classic fonts used in print and have been using them happily until recently. What happened recently? Fractions.

My current project is a print version of How To Bake Without Baking Powder. The “problem” is that it contains 54 recipes, and that all of those recipes contain fractions.

There are several ways to deal with fractions. They may be written as decimals, for example, 1½ may be written as 1.5. That one’s easy enough to figure out in a recipe, but what about 1⅔? Would you be quick to use a recipe that used 1.66 instead? While most font sets contain the standard quarter, half, and three-quarter fractions, many of them do not allow for thirds and eights which are not uncommon measurements in recipes. I learned that when my fonts formatted like this in my desktop publisher:fraction font blank boxThe little blank box ought to be a ⅓.

Now apparently, both InDesign CS4 and QuarkXPress 8 can make OpenType fractions, but alas, Scribus cannot. That sent me scrambling for a font set which contained those much desired fractions. In addition, it had to look good with EB Garamond, my primary font.

After a little experimentation, I chose Linux Biolinum. It’s a rather classic looking sans-serif font, which seems to pair well with EB Garamond, my rather classic looking serif font. The only downside is that each fraction must be manually updated in Scribus, one by one, to the new font. It’s making some rather tedious going, but I’ve learned some important things about fonts and book design. Hopefully that’s worth the effort.

What I Like About Publishing eBooks (and What I Don’t)

They are the trend, aren’t they? Electronic books. Cheaper to buy and easier to carry around. I understand why consumers like them. Personally, I don’t think anything is better than a real live book in my hands, but that’s a debate about personal choice. As a writer and independent publisher, my likes and dislikes about eBooks shift a bit. They’re more about the things that go on behind the screen.

What I like best about publishing eBooks is that they can be updated. This is useful on several levels. For example, there’s nothing worse than finally getting a book in print, one that you’ve labored over, checked and re-checked, only to find errors. And there’s nothing you can do about it. With an eBook, the errors can be corrected and a new file uploaded to replace the old. No new ISBN or ASIN required. Simple as that.

This is also useful for promoting newer books. In my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, for example. With every new volume, I can update the previous eBooks and include a link to newer works.

Along those lines I can let new readers get a sample of me and my writing by offering books for free, say the first in a series. I’ve done just that with my how-to series, offering volume one for free. Hopefully they like it well enough to be willing to buy more of my work. If they don’t, then they haven’t lost a dime.

So what don’t I like about publishing eBooks? The first thing is that they are difficult to make pretty. They are ugly. Not the covers, but the interiors. Formatting options are limited because different eReaders render the book differently, so the rules to formatting are set and with little aesthetic leeway. I don’t like it that I can’t compose my text and white space to suit myself. On top of that, different eBook conversion software produces different results, which compounds the problem of creating a pretty page. I’ve tried several services and now stick with only two because the results are more acceptable.

Images and diagrams are a problem in eBooks, and avid readers agree that this type of book is not very picture friendly. For one thing, the screen is relatively small, although some eReaders have zoom type features. From the publishing end, images seem less predictable than I’d like. The image in the file I upload may end up larger or smaller than I aimed for.

I don’t like that I can’t make tables. In some of my how-tos, tables would be a helpful way to visually organize data. I end up having to type it all out in a line with commas or hyphens, which isn’t very “at a glance.”

The other thing I don’t like is that eBooks have a sense of temporariness about them. If my device breaks or my computer dies, they’re lost. If I don’t have electricity or battery power, I can’t read. Expiration dates can be added when the book files are converted to the various formats so that the books can be automatically deleted. As an author it’s unsettling to think that all of my hard work could simply disappear from the face of the earth.

I suppose it could be said that eBook are here to stay. Maybe. Likely they will change somewhat. However, print books don’t seem to be going anywhere soon either, which is also good. I suppose the best way to look at it is that in the realm of books, there’s something for everybody. As a publisher, I just have to learn to do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with.

What Am I Worth?

I went to check my Kindle sales yesterday at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. The numbers nearly took my breath away: 134 copies, 157, 142. Then I took a closer look and realized these were not sales, these were copies lent via Kindle’s lending program. This is where authors can allow those who purchase copies of their eBooks to lend them to others for free. Compare that with actual sales for those same days: 3, 2, and 2. Well, how would you feel if you were me?

The selling point for authors to join this program is that it lets others become familiar with your work in hopes that they might choose to buy it. But even after all those copies were borrowed, sales never went up. Sales remained consistent at 0 to 3 copies sold per day. So how am I, as an author, benefiting from this? I’m not.

I had a similar experience last summer. I was contacted by a major magazine publisher who publishes several popular homesteading related magazines plus maintains a blog on their website. They wanted me to become a regular contributor to their blog, with the caveat that they could only offer exposure, not pay. As most hungry artists will tell you, exposure carries with it the hope of being “discovered” and hence finally “making it,” i.e. being able to make a living at it. I’m not immune to this thinking, even though 5 Acres & A Dream The Book has been very successful for an indie publication. One successful book, however, does not a successful author make.

Initially I was responsive to their offer. The red flag went up when they wanted me to sign a contract. If I’m working for free, then why would I need a contract? Since I was busy with Critter Tales at the time, I was told I’d only need to contribute one or two blog posts per week to start. To start? That didn’t sit well with me so I checked out their website. I found lots of articles by a few well-known authors, but what caught my attention was that none of these blog articles had any comments. That begged the question, was anyone reading them?

So who really benefits from things like this? Amazon and the magazines, of course. They build a reputation and following for offering extensive free resources, but at no cost to themselves. They invest neither money nor time into those resources, yet they profit from them.

But why should I be surprised? This is the work ethic of our time – to make money off of other peoples’ labors, not one’s own. Doesn’t it seem ironic that those who do the actual labor in this world get paid the least, while those who do the least work get paid the most? That’s true no matter what the business.

In “2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Myriad Opportunities amid a Slow Growth Environment,” Smashword’s Mark Coker points out that a consequence of Amazon’s lending program and free books for Amazon Prime subscribers is that these are training consumers to expect eBooks for free, to the point where they complain about having to pay even a small fee for them. It’s true that there are no print costs for eBooks, but an eBook requires just as much of an author’s time to research and write as a print book. Why doesn’t that count for something? I daresay that the complainers would never dream of working for free, and likely consider themselves underpaid no matter how they earn their living.

I have no illusions that my own complaints will change a thing. If anything, the trend will not only continue, but get worse. I can only decide what to do for myself and my own work. Even if no one else thinks so, my time is valuable to me. My free work is on my blog, where I willingly share the ups, downs, lessons and how-tos of homesteading. For my books, well, if I ever hope to be a professional writer, then I’d better start acting like one now. If that aspiration fails, then at least I will have not cheapened myself and my work. I will have given it my best shot.