Thursday, May 19, 2011

E-normous Milestone in Book Publishing: E-Books Beat Out Print on Amazon

This just in. . . has just announced that it is now selling more Kindle e-books than print book ones—and that is paperback and hardcover combined. The day that seemed to be somewhere off in the future, when we would be hanging our jetpacks on the peg by the office door, has arrived. And sooner than anticipated.

Various news reports quote Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, addressing the speed at which this change is taking place. “We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly—we've been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years.”

Amazon is reporting that since April 1, it has sold 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books. The figures do not include free Kindle titles. Amazon's Kindle first debuted on the book scene in 2007. By 2010, e-books sales for the Kindle had passed hardcover print titles. Then by January-ish of 2011, Kindle e-book sales had surpassed paperback titles.

Some book traditionalists are in mourning over this development, fearing the death of the printed book. As a former newspaper gal, I totally get that. I interviewed for a job at The San Francisco Chronicle in 1997 and was asked if I actually believed readers would prefer to get their news on some "digital device" than by the beloved ink-and-paper form. I wanted the job pretty badly, so I said what I knew this editor wanted to hear (and what I wanted to believe) -- that people would always love the printed page. And now here we are. . . You can read more about the development online.

Others are cheering that reading is up and books -- in any format -- are being devoured.

For our kids, this might not register as much of a milestone. But for those of us on the fence, with a foot in either format, it's a moment to pause.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

E-Book Author Megg Jensen Skips the Big Six

The changes in publishing have altered the equation for every aspect of the business, for marketers, editors, agents, and bookstores, as well as authors themselves. Taking a break this week from picture book apps, DotMomming got ahold of Megg Jensen, author of the young adult fantasy Anathema (February 2011, DarkSide Publishing), to talk about e-publishing.

But first a little background on Megg. She has worked as a freelance parenting journalist since 2003 and began writing YA novels in 2009. Along with a few other writing rebels, she runs DarkSide Publishing, a sort of authors' collective that produces e-books. She blogs about writing while juggling freelancing, volunteering, and family life, and lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, two kids, and a miniature schnauzer.

DotMomming: Anathema is your first novel, and instead of going the traditional route of approaching the Big Six* publishers, you published a paperback book through CreateSpace that retails on Amazon for $11 and an e-book for Kindle & Nook that sells for $2.99. Can you tell us about that decision?

Megg Jensen: Anathema is the first novel I've published, not the first I've written. But it is the first novel I felt was worthy to send to agents. I queried it for six months, had multiple fulls requested, but failed to nab an agent. I was told YA traditional fantasy (no vamps or werewolves) wasn't popular and it would be impossible to sell the novel. A few agents even said, "But if you write another novel, please query me again."

When The Sleepers (coming out January 2012, DarkSide Publishing) was done, I sent it out to those agents who'd expressed interest in Anathema. Even more fulls were requested, and there were many more sleepless nights as I waited for a response. In early fall, I attended a conference in Naperville with fellow SCBWI member Karly Kirkpatrick. We skipped the final session and instead had a frank talk about e-publishing. She told me she was seriously considering taking the leap into self-publishing. I thought she was completely insane.

She e-pubbed her novel Into the Shadows in November 2010 and kept encouraging me to join her. I told her "no" so many times! I was set on getting an agent. The Sleepers was still with two agents, and I had sworn to myself I would not consider e-publishing until I had exhausted all of my "real" options. Over Christmas break I started reading more and more about e-pubbing. Then I read a blog post by LJ Sellers where she chronicled her decision to pull her books from a traditional publisher and e-pub. I talked to Karly more, and one day I had a lightbulb moment.

I wanted to choose my own destiny. I'd been told repeatedly that my writing was solid. I'd had agents offer to rep me if I switched genres. One agent even said, "You're a damn good writer." You know what? I finally believed what they'd been telling me. Maybe the market was too small. Maybe I really
was a great writer. If those two things were true, then it was time for me to take my career into my own hands.

I emailed the two agents who still had my full and pulled The Sleepers from them. (Insert gasp here.) One never responded, but the other spent an entire day emailing with me about my decision. She was sweet, helpful, and encouraging. She told me I was making the right decision because she knew that no matter how much she loved The Sleepers, that she'd never be able to sell it to the Big Six.

It's been nearly six months, and I have not regretted my decision once.

DM: While hitting with one of the big houses might make an author feel like she is set, there are countless authors who have received NO PROMOTION from the big guys. So the Big Six is no guarantee of big promotion. How have you promoted the book as an indie author? How is it being received so far?

MJ: Sometimes I feel like I promote 24 hours a day. Other days I take a break from promoting. Really, who wants to be bombarded with ads about my book? No one. What I have done is run contests on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter. I sent Anathema to book bloggers for reviews (yes, there are TONS of bloggers who will review indie novels). I met a lot of authors, particularly on Twitter, started a Facebook fan page, posted on my blog, attended book signings, and told everyone who's ever known me that I published a novel. However, I have only purchased one ad. Everything else has been 100 percent free.

Anathema has been very well-received. All of my sales outlets (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords) have averages of four stars or higher. I have hit multiple bestseller lists on Barnes & Noble and Amazon - lists where Anathema appeared next to authors like Alyson Noel and Maggie Stiefvater. My
Goodreads average is 4.26. I can't complain.

DM: The digital book frontier feels wide open right now. But the quality is mixed. How did you go about the editorial process before releasing Anathema? How did you try to ensure a quality book with
real literary merit?

MJ: My editorial process is the longest part of producing a novel. I wrote a blog post about my editing process, but I'll break it down quickly: My novels run through at least five drafts. I have an SCBWI critique group, no less than four beta readers, and no less than two proofreaders. DarkSide Publishing, the group formed by Karly Kirkpatrick, Genevieve Ching, and myself early in 2011, is known for
its tough critiques - especially with the addition of West Coast author Angela Carlie. We all have mad editing skills. I utilize beta readers from my critique groups (some with MFAs in writing). I also have a children's librarian who beta reads for me. Her insights are invaluable.

DM: Amanda Hocking is on every author's mind right now. (Amanda is a self-published author who, as of March 2011, has sold about 1 million copies of nine books and earned more than $2 million in sales.) What made her books a success, in your opinion? And why does this route appeal to authors?

MJ: I'll be honest, I've not read any of Amanda Hocking's books. I do read her blog, though, and chat with her on Twitter occasionally. She's awesome. What made her books a success? I think it's a combination of things. She has quite a few books out, taking up a lot of virtual shelf space. She blogs
frequently about her life, not her books, which makes her accessible to readers. Word-of-mouth really helped her books skyrocket. Isn't that always the way it works? I heard about Twilight from multiple people. Same with Harry Potter.

This is why e-pubbing is so attractive. You can make a product, package it yourself, and sell it - knowing that what really sells is word-of-mouth. Is quality important? Of course it is! A book won't spread from reader to reader if it stinks. Some people cite full control as their reason for e-pubbing. I think that's a bad reason because if you take full control over your book and don't allow input, then it probably won't be as good. I take input from beta readers, proofreaders, and from my cover designer.

DM: Can you speak to book pricing, profit margins, and trying to make a living as a writer?

MJ: If an e-book is sold at $2.99 or above, it's a 70 percent profit margin. I liked the sound of that. However, 99 cent books and paperbacks make very little in profit. People need to understand that traditionally published authors have much lower royalties because they are paying into that amazing machine that puts out books like The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. There is nothing wrong with it; traditional publishing simply has high costs due to the agent's cut, publicity, promotion, editors, etc. This is the nature of the beast. It does not make it wrong. It's only different.

There is a TON of debate over the long-term financial ramifications of e-publishing vs. traditional publishing, but it's believed that with a higher output (three to four books a year) and consistent sales, an indie author will make more money in royalties over time. So much depends on whether a book hits it big. I will say that I easily cleared my investment in producing Anathema and am making nothing but profit now. According to a recent blog post by Mandy Hubbard, in 2011 I can expect to easily clear
a midlist author's first advance. Easily.

I am not the main breadwinner at my house. I'm blessed to be married to an engineer with a stable job, and we budget solely off his income. So every dollar I make is frosting. We like lots and lots of frosting. I wouldn't recommend publishing a book (traditionally or e-publishing) and trying to make a living off it. That's reserved for those few authors whose names everyone knows: James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, and Jane Yolen. Can that happen? Absolutely, but I don't think it's the norm, and no one should expect

DM: The summer reading season is upon us, and I anticipate a surge in e-book sales as more young people devour books on reading devices -- despite the risk of sand ruining their iPads, Nooks, and Kindles. What is your take on e-reading, traditional books, and the shape of things to come?

MJ: E-books will only increase in popularity. My kids, ages 5 and 9, beg to get their hands on my Nook Color and my iPhone. They can manipulate technology better than some adults. E-books are the future. I'm not a book burning radical though. I love my paper books. I'm reading a hardcover right now (The Dark and Hollow Places . . . okay, so I'm obsessed with Carrie Ryan). I can't imagine ever fully giving them up, and I don't want to. Is the book world changing? Of course, that's the nature of society. Technological advances shape our world.

DM: Do you feel committed to this route into publishing? Or if a big house came knocking, would the traditional publishing routine lure you back?

MJ: Wow, if a big house came knocking tomorrow, would I give up e-publishing? They'd have to offer me an awful lot of money and really good royalties. Haha, so I guess the answer is no. (Insert another gasp here.) I really have no interest in giving up everything I've worked so hard for. I don't think authors who choose traditional publishing are wrong. This is my personal choice and path to follow.

However, I would love to have an agent, and while I've actually spoken with some recently, no decisions have been made. No, I haven't sent one query since last year. Yes, agents are interested in indie writers too.

* For those of us who love lists, here are the Big Six publishing houses. Keep in mind there are approximately a gajillion imprints within each house, but still. The going is tough. We wish you well.

Hachette Book Group
Penguin Group
Random House
Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Author & Illustrator Mike Austin Debuts With Digital, Then Shifts to Paper Books

Mike Austin is a children’s author in an unusual and fantastic position. His first book that came out was a picture book app with Ruckus Media Group called A Present for Milo. It was well-received, and Mike was quickly hit up to make two more books, only this time with paper and a spine. DotMomming talks to Mike about his experiences as an author-illustrator working in digital and print formats.

DotMomming: A Present for Milo was written originally as a picture book app for preschoolers, and then, after it was out, you were offered a contract to turn it into a print book. That's not the norm these days. Could you speak to that highly unusual experience and how it came about? When can we look for the paper books on shelves?

Mike Austin: It's funny but it actually began as a traditional book.

I came up with the story about 15 years ago when my daughter was around two. One evening at bedtime we were wondering what our cat, Milo, was doing all day while we were out of the house. So I grabbed my sketch pad and started drawing the story. I liked the simple concept and character enough that I decided to make a book about Milo and his adventures.

The finished dummy sat on my shelf for years before I was contacted last April by literary agent Rubin Pfeffer, who had seen my illustration portfolio and asked if I was interested in collaborating on some projects. I of course said YES!

A Present for Milo was introduced to a number of different publishers, but it was Ruckus Media Group who saw it and thought it would make a great iPad app. I knew nothing about apps and thought what a great opportunity to learn about the process, thinking how cool it would be to see Milo come to life in an animated, digital form.

I worked with a great developer and art director at Sequel Digital. The project took about three months from concepts to finished app.

The app was launched in early December, and shortly after I was offered a contract to create two new Milo books.

DM: You landed literary agent Ruben Pfeffer? That cannot come out of the blue. Had you been interested in breaking into children's book publishing and been shopping your portfolio around?

MA: I have been working as a graphic designer/illustrator for more than 20 years, my wife Jing Jing Tsong also. And I've been an illustrator full-time for 10. I have portfolios at the I Spot,,, and a bunch of other places. I've won awards and all that. The majority of my work is editorial (newspapers, magazines, corporate publications) for a very diverse cleintele: The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, MIT, Boy's Life, American Express, even the U.S. State Department.

Rubin had actually seen Jing's portfolio first and found me through her. I wasn't actively seeking representation, although I was very interested in children's book publishing from Day One. I have a bazillion ideas in my head, and when Rubin and I had our first conversation I almost exploded. Jing and I have always tried to present a positive, whimsical style in our work. Maybe that's what caught his eye -- I don't know exactly. But I have to say Rubin is a very brilliant and wonderful person who's helped us focus our ideas and make great decisions. It has been an incredible learning experience.

DM: How many print children's books have you done? And how many apps?

MA: A Present for Milo is my first children's book app. I'm currently working on two new Milo books that should be available the end of the year and a new series of apps for young readers that will also be available this fall.

DM: Traditional print books follow standard, 32-page formats, while apps seem to have no constraints. Do you prefer one medium to the other?

MA: I love working in both formats. I think it really depends on the story concept and how well the illustrations will work digitally. I love the flexibility that a digital format offers and also the instant gratification. It was so thrilling to send the page files to the developer and a few days later have a sample app with working clickables. Very cool.

DM: How do you feel kids experience your books? When you're creating a paper book, you have a reader in mind. And when you're creating an app, there are very different considerations. Could you share what your biggest priorities are when creating illustrations and text for the various readers?

MA: I hope that kids are having fun and enjoy spending time with the story and characters. If they are engaged, entertained and learning than I've succeeded. That's my goal, to create something that is meaningful.

DM: Some critics feel that picture book apps blur the lines between a book, a video game, and a movie. What do you say to that?

MA: There are all kinds of apps out there, just like different kinds of books, video games and movies. It's the parents’ responsibility to choose the content that's most appropriate and be engaged in the learning process. Is A Present for Milo a movie? No. Is it a video game? In some ways yes because of the way the reader has to interact and click through each page. Is it a new kind of book? Yes.

DM: How do you think picture book apps are impacting early literacy?

MA: It's an exciting new medium that gives early readers a very fun way to experience both new content and the classics. That's what it's all about, finding new and entertaining ways to help young readers learn. Judging from the popularity of children's book apps, I think it's positive.

DM: What's ahead for you after Milo? Both in terms of digital book making and traditional?

MA: My wife, illustrator Jing Jing Tsong, is currently under contract for a new children's book due out later this year, and we're working together on a bunch of new children's book apps that should be out before Christmas of this year.

DM: Many children's authors and artists are itching to break into this wild and unknown frontier of apps for kids. What advice do you have for them?

MA: It is a time-consuming process, and the development costs can be very high depending on the complexity of the project. For example, if you have 15 pages and each page has backgrounds, lead-in animations, and five clickable elements that each do five random things, you now have more than 500 illustrations! It's a lot of work, but if you have a strong story and a great developer, then go for it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nosy Crow's Kate Wilson on apps, print books, and the wisdom to know the difference

We heard from Loud Crow’s CEO and founder Calvin Wang a few weeks back. So it’s only fair that we jump the pond and speak with the other Crow on the children’s app landscape, Nosy Crow. Managing Director Kate Wilson, who had the wisdom to publish The Gruffalo at PanMacmillan back in 1999, took a few minutes out of what must be an insanely busy schedule to talk to DotMomming about apps, reading, and the shape of books to come.

But first, let’s get up to speed about Nosy Crow, one of the many new publishing ventures on the scene in this rapidly changing world of books – specifically children’s books. Nosy Crow took wing in February 2010 and published its first traditional book in January 2011, the YA Small Blue Thing by S.C. Ransom. By the end of the year, the company plans to have 24 books for sale in the UK and five apps for sale throughout the world. The books are available in the United States and Canada under the Nosy Crow imprint from Candlewick Press, who will begin publishing Nosy Crow’s illustrated books in August 2011.

What sets Nosy Crow apart from many new app producers is the experience of its staff. While many houses see their top talent drawn from gaming and entertainment fields, Kate Wilson brings twenty-five years' experience as an editor.

DotMomming: How many of your books will be apps, how many traditional? And will you produce apps from paper books? And paper books from apps?

Kate Wilson: Twenty-four books will be either print only or (when they’re novels, print and e-book) and five will be apps only. There won’t be any overlap between the print books that we publish and the apps we bring out this year. This is because we believe that there’s little point in squashing a book that works well on the print page onto a phone or a tablet device: We think it’s much better to commission books that work on the page for that medium, and commission new kinds of reading experiences from scratch for digital media.

DM: Most apps on the market right now are digital versions of popular titles – the Dr. Seuss books, Sandra Boynton’s menagerie of board books. But Nosy Crow plans to release new authors and illustrators along with established names. There is some risk in launching new titles, as parents have a hard time wading through the sea of apps to find quality. What’s your strategy for getting the word out about unknown artists and authors?

KW: We really believe that this is a market in which really good products – well thought-through and well-produced, with a strong sense of the child and parent who will be reading the app – will shine out. We are active on Twitter and Facebook, and we talk about apps in general as well as our own on our blog. Our blog posts Appy Days and Digital Natives: Kids and Apps, for example, outline some of our app thinking. At the moment, there aren’t many people making apps that are reading experiences. While we are, to some degree, competitors, and while we have a range of philosophies and priorities, we are, broadly, mutually supportive, amplifying one another’s messages through social media.

DM: How do you find your talent – whether debut authors like S.C. Ransom or well-established names like the prolific Philip Ardagh and illustrator of the Gruffalo books Axel Scheffler?

KW: We accept submissions of writing, art, and concepts directly from authors. We have guidelines on our site. A number of our publications have been and will be the result of authors, etc. approaching us. S.C. Ransom is a good example. We receive submissions from the many agents  – mostly U.K.-based as that’s where we are – who represent writing and illustration talent. We know them because several of the people who work at Nosy Crow have been in the children’s publishing industry for many years (25 in my case). And because of our long experience in the publishing industry, some authors and illustrators have had good experiences working with us in the past and want to share the excitement of a new publishing venture. Philip Ardagh and Axel Scheffler are good examples of that kind of talent.

DM: Nosy Crow was in the news in March for signing with Candlewick Press to co-publish the majority of its titles in the U.S. and Canada. Could you talk about what this relationship means for Nosy Crow?

KW: Candlewick Press will publish the majority of our illustrated titles, starting in August. It’s a great thing for our authors and illustrators: They have, on the one hand, the personal, hands-on relationship they have with us in the UK, and, on the other hand, the highly professional advocacy, market understanding, and credibility of Candlewick, who sees the publication of its book in the United States and Canada not as a one-off title but as a longer-term connection. It’s great for us because it gives Nosy Crow a print presence in the United States. And it’s great for Candlewick, who have access to a range of talent that they wouldn’t have access to, while they can make good use of our social media engagement – many of the people who follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook and visit our website are from North America.

DM: When you spoke at the Bologna Book Fair’s “Tools of Change” conference on March 28, you addressed the cost considerations publishers must weigh in app production. Could you speak to the issue of quality and the factors Nosy Crow evaluates before taking on projects?

KW: This is an evolving market, and we want to produce apps of the highest possible quality. At the moment, we are making the best apps we can, and we are not skimping on the quality of illustration, audio recording, or music. We are packing the apps with a high-level of interactivity – and we do our coding in-house. It is expensive, but I think that what matters is that you see every dollar we spend in the quality of what we do.

DM: Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson, whose book has sold gajillions of copies, recently nixed the idea of a Gruffalo picture book app. Donaldson is not alone in rejecting apps, as many authors, artists, and parents worry about the impact of digitizing libraries on kids’ reading and learning. Can you speak to that?

KW: We believe in the importance of reading for pleasure. We love the smell and feel of print books and don’t take any less pride in the terrific print books that we make than in the apps we are creating. We think, though, that there are circumstances in which the portability and interactivity of books on a screen are appropriate, and that, if a child is using a screen, we think that it’s important that there are really engaging reading experiences available on it. I was quoted in the article that Julia Donalson contributed to. I said that I entirely understood Julia’s view. Having published The Gruffalo, I think it’s perfect for the page.

However, I also said, "If parents and children are moving towards screens, I feel really profoundly that it is our responsibility as publishers to provide really compelling reading experiences that are at least as interesting as games. I think it's luddite and refusenik not to embrace where your readers are going. We can't be a worthy antique as an industry – we have to go where people are. If we turn our backs on that, other people will fill the space, and they won't be people who've had 25 years' experience writing, illustrating, and publishing the best children's books."

DM: Some app producers are comfortable blurring the lines, and when they are asked whether their product is a book, a game, or a movie simply reply, “Yes.” Your first app, The Three Little Pigs, shows great restraint in the number of whistles and bells included to tell the story. How do you decide how much interactivity a book needs?

KW: I think that’s a great question, and one we give really careful thought to when we are creating our apps. I think that what we are interested in is creating a reading experience, not a game. So, in The Three Little Pigs, for example, we didn’t want to interfere too much with the linear flow of the story, so there isn’t a point, for example, where you can break away to play a game. Instead, the additional layer of non-linear comments from the pigs deepen the reader’s sense of the character of the individual pigs. And many of the things that you can do progress the story – by tapping, you can help the pigs to construct their houses, or run away from the wolf... though you can also help the wolf to blow down the houses by blowing on the screen too.

DM: I live in a house with three young readers of books, the youngest of whom is learning to read via a screen as well as on paper. These children are digital natives, and they don’t share the same affinity for ink-and-paper books as their parents. They move fluidly from one medium to the next. Would you gaze into your crystal ball and share what you see for their reading futures?

KW: I don’t mind how they read; I mind that they are reading. Our role as publishers is to provide material that is really engaging to young readers, to motivate them to learn to decode as a necessity (it’s one of the key skills they need to be educated and successful) and as a pleasure.