Amazon Studios & Bootstrapping Original Content

What does it mean when the major online retailer of books and movies is getting into the content production business? It’s more industry convergence that proves that “content is king”, even when it’s crowdsourced…

I think that Amazon is doing a kind of Zeroes2Heroes approach to getting original content, but on a bigger, Amazon scale: promises of “options”, coupled with free (but strings attached, I think) tools like their Storyteller storyboarding app and online network.

 

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Meeting Michael Slade and talking about eBooks

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to sit down with Canadian author Jay Clarke (aka “Michael Slade”).

He’s a former lawyer and the author of over a dozen crime novels, in a genre sometimes referred to as “Mountie Noir”. (It’s a great label – almost as good, IMHO, as “Tartan Noir”, which refers to Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin.)

Mr. Clarke is currently doing a Writer in Residence at Vancouver Community College, and during that time is making himself available for one-to-one’s with students and staff, as well as conducting some presentations or classes. Check out his personal “Special-X” website.

What did I learn from talking with Michael Slade?

Michael Slade appears highly energized, with a laser-like focus and a rapidity of speech akin to a machine-gun. In answering my questions, he flowed breathlessly from one story to the next, in effect raising me up out of my chair a little, buoyed on his waves of enthusiastic patter. The man has a lot to say, and says it with a quickness and precision that had me picturing him sweet-talking many a jury back in his day.

I had hoped to ask him some questions such as who his favourite writers were, what fiction had influenced him, etc. I had considered my questions around in my mind, but I never asked them. I never even got close to ’em. That’s because when I spoke, my mouth began telling him about how I hoped to find an Agent or a small publisher to help me repackage and market my first novel. I suppose this is what I was really frustrated by – a lack of success in selling my books.

What he told me was this: the eBook revolution is still a work in progress. The market will soon “tip over”, and eBook sales will eclipse print book sales entirely – not just at Amazon, but everywhere in the market. The tablet and eReader markets are making this happen, and the traditional publishing industry will be changed forever.

What does it boil down to?

My efforts as a novelist are split down the middle by an important boundary, One the one side (the side I love and am blindly devoted to), there lives me, the caring creator, trying to formulate and legitimize a mythical world of characters and events through the written word. On the other side, there’s this realm of unknown results and lack of predictability, where I stuff little messages into bottles and fling them out into the sea, hoping for one of my books to get purchased. On the first side of the boundary, the one where I’m synthesizing out of fragments, I’m in familiar territory. I know I can do it and have confidence that my skill will improve over time with lots of practice. On the other side, it feels like a no-man’s land, with me flailing around in the dark.

All the same, the aspect of both those things is the concept of me remaining in control of the work and the process. Above all, that is what appeals to me the most.

The books I’m trying to write (and Jay, if you read the copy I handed you of my little novel, Owe Nothing, then bless you sir), are vastly different in content, pace, and tone from anything by Michael Slade, whose last novel, Red Sun was described by one reviewer as “Ian Fleming-esque in its narrative drive”. I am still developing my voice.

But, we’re all working in the shadow of the same industry-changing technological tide that is putting more emphasis on writers becoming their own publishers, and paper turning into pixels.

The stigma attached to self-publishing (“vanity press”) is eroding as more readers and writers get involved online, and as the barriers to “getting published” continue to transform.

Jay Clarke also named quite a few famous authors who initially self-pubbed (Mark Twain?) or who had struggled for decades before their big book came (Elmore Leonard!). He mentioned that every author tends to compare himself to another whom he admires, whether newer or older. We’re all influenced or inspired by somebody else.

I believe what Michael Slade was telling me was essentially this: Don’t quit. Keep trying, and keep control of your work, because the sea change is coming…

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On Reviews: How NOT to Respond (or “Do this, and sink your writing career”)

When I read this exchange between an author and a reviewer on a public community blog, I was stunned, and a little fascinated:

http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2011/03/greek-seaman-jacqueline-howett.html

The author refuses to acknowledge the points the reviewer (a volunteer) made, and soon became combative and even verbally abusive! It was a fascinating example of an emotional meltdown by a (fragile) author, and the resulting wave of community support for the attacked reviewer. Some commentators also worried that the tenor of the exchanges would reflect poorly on the perception of self-published authors in general, and reinforce a stigma against “indies” by the publishing industry.

I do not revel in the pain of others, but this author’s reaction to what seems to be fair criticism fascinated me in the same way that I’m fascinated by videos of fools injuring themselves undertaking ridiculously dangerous stunts, crashing their ATVs, or taking golf balls to the crotch. All these self-inflicted injuries to the ego and the flesh fall under the category of “EPIC FAIL”.

Now, it’s gone viral on Twitter…

So here are a couple of lessons that you can take away from the above example:

  1. If you can’t say something professional, say nothing at all: If you voluntarily submit your work to any kind of critique, always take reviews calmly and professionally! Learn from them. If you can’t do this, it’s better not to respond at all.
  2. Take responsibility for your words: Information and commentary published online may remain there indefinitely, or may be republished or syndicated continually. You words (or words that are electronically associated with your content or online identity) will be indexed by Google or any number of other search engines and propagation methods.

Bottom line: act like a pro, and you’ll be treated like one.

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Repost: It’s Still About Story Telling: Writing in the ePublishing Age

I enjoyed this article by Nilofar Ansher. It deals with the way new media and technology play a role in moving the control of opinion away from from critics and specialists and into the hands of consumers.

In fact, consumers are ever-more becoming producers. I think this is the real shift: the audience is not only listening, they’re talking back.

I enjoyed this article by Nilofar Ansher. It deals with the way new media and technology play a role in moving the control of opinion away from from critics and specialists and into the hands of consumers.

In fact, consumers are ever-more becoming producers. I think this is the real shift: the audience is not only listening, they’re talking back.

http://trailofpapercuts.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/its-still-about-story-telling-writing-in-the-epublishing-age/

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What Independent Author Stacey Cochran learned from self-publishing

I found this article to be a very useful, first-hand account of the challenges and advantages of self-publishing.

I think that opinion tends to be divided between those who feel that eBooks are opening new opportunities for readers and writers, and those who feel that the eReader medium is still too immature and under-refined compared to paper books and traditional book publishing and book selling.

This fellow’s travails in self-publishing and book marketing provide a practical example of the pros and cons of being an independent author and book publisher.

http://blog.firebird-fiction.com/guest-post/guest-post-independent-author-stacey-cochran-on-what-hes-learned-about-self-publishing/

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Preview Owe Nothing Free, on Google Books

In the spirit of “try before you buy”, I invite you to read a preview of my novel, Owe Nothing, on Google Books.

Owe Nothing is my non-mainstream look at Vancouver: an adventure novel based upon real people and places that I knew when my family lived in dodgy Kingsway Motels for over a year. The names of the people in Owe Nothing are fictionalized, but the people and events are inspired by reality…

All ow me to introduce a few of the main characters…

Jack Owen
A young guy looking for adventure, and an escape from his lower-class rut. By accepting a bizarre job offer, he soon discovers that the back alleys and rooftops of East Vancouver hold more mysteries than he may be able to hide from his Dad or his Sister.

Parminder Singh
Jack’s buddy from work, and his companion through some bizarre surveillance tasks that they’ve been recruited to do for a man they’ve never even met. Parm’s not sure if this is on the up and up, but he’ll do it for the money.

Mike and Chris Coffey
Brothers, and friends of Jack from the neighbourhood. They’ve got to find a way to get rid of their violent alcoholic step-father Ted, without their mother Regina finding out. Maybe Jack can help them…?

Check out the rest of Owe Nothing, on Google Books.

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Is an eReader or Tablet in Your Future, or mine?

I read this 2010 Survey of Book Buying Behaviour that gave some interesting stats on eReader adoption rates among book buyers. Compared to buyers of printed books, eBook purchasers are a small lot, but growing every day.

The survey said, among other things, that of the 9800 some-odd people surveyed…

  • eReader owners represent about 7% of all book buyers. (7% doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a percentage of a very large number!)
  • That number could grow to 12%-15% in the next two years.
  • 15% either already own an eReader or a very likely to purchase one in the next 6-12 months
  • 16% didn’t own an eReader but were somewhat likely to buy one in 6-12 months
  • 60% of respondents who already owned an eReader would buy 1 to 10 eBooks in the next 6-12 months
  • 47% of eReader owners would pay anywhere from less than $10 to almost $13 for an eBook
  • 14% of eReader owners would pay between $14-$20 for an eBook.

My impression of book marketing is that my message is effectively a pebble thrown into the ocean. I must make a much larger splash for my ripples to be noticed out of all the rest of the masses of motion in the ocean.

One article I read said there are 1 million books being published in print each year. That is a massive number. A publishing house employee was quoted as saying “that’s too many books”.

So, as an Author and book seller, it makes some sense to move out of the ocean and inhabit a smaller body of water, where there is less competition. In other words, to some degree, become a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Publishing for eReader platforms seems to be a simpler and more economical way to accomplish that, while at the same time, giving an Author an inexpensive (and almost immediate) publishing platform. And, distribution is to an audience who can control what they want to see to a greater degree than their bookstore-visiting cousins.

Similar to an opt-in email list, an eReader (or a Smartphone or PC running eReader software) is an opt-in platform. It displays content and content categories that are largely defined or controlled by the reader. The online bookseller (say, Amazon) wants to facilitate a sale quickly and easily, by feeding the eReader user book suggestions that match their interests. So not only are eReader users a smaller audience, but they are potentially a more focused, loyal audience, because their personal needs are being discovered and cultivated in real-time. Online content is catered more to their needs, and delivered in almost no time – barriers to entry are very low…

Is an eReader or tablet in your future, or mine? I think it’s very likely. What do you think?

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Are Video Book Trailers a Good Idea?

Are video book trailers a good idea? I actually debated this question while I pondered the progress of my online book marketing campaign. In retrospect, it seemed funny that I actually pondered this at all.

When I first envisioned the kinds of activities it would take to market a novel, I imagined things like press releases, printed interviews, serialization, or an email campaign. I was thinking in textual terms, for a textual medium.

It seemed rational, but in truth, it was a limited, literal approach, and it ignored a key aspect of modern life: we live in a multimedia, multi-modal world. Reading text is only one of the modes of apprehension that we use in any given day. We also listen to radio, podcasts and music, we watch TV and video, and we interact with others remotely through telephone, text messages and online, through email and a myriad of other channels.

In one way or another, I’ve been involved with the production of graphics, video, animation and interactive media since graduating from art college in 1989. I think I had a stereotypical mindset about the written word; perhaps I assumed that novels, a traditionally linear, text-only medium, must be marketed in a linear, text-only manner. This seems odd, since it’s in my nature to take a multi-disciplinary approach – to think laterally, and to jump any conceptual fences that present themselves.

I remembered a lecture by Dr. Tom Hudson, one-time Dean Emeritus at Emily Carr College of Art and Design, and a man who was a major influence on my education. Tom Hudson cited philosopher Bertrand Russel, who claimed that about 65% of all knowledge was achieved visually. Tom Hudson went on to say that with the advent of television and the explosion of information systems, the percentage was probably now closer to 80%.

He said that before 1990, in an ancient and wondrous time about 5 years before the first web browsers come onto the scene and before the World Wide Web came into people’s lives.

Now, in 2010, you can watch (and record) video clips on your cell phone. Media is becoming small, more portable, less expensive, and more integrated. Video and interactive media are being distributed everywhere today. Tom’s words brought modern multi-media marketing approach into focus.

So the question is are video book trailers a good idea for independent book marketers and authors? I’m answering with a tentative Yes.

Here’s a couple of discussion threads on the topic:

http://bookmarket.ning.com/forum/topics/how-effective-are-video-book

http://bookmarket.ning.com/forum/topics/the-impact-of-book-trailers-on

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Book Trailer Video: Owe Nothing

Check out the new book trailer video for Owe Nothing:

http://ejohnlovebooks.com/books/owe-nothing/owe-nothing-video-trailers/

This captures a bit of the humour and intrigue of Owe Nothing. I think I definitely see more video trailers in my future…

(Apex Reviews, and GhostWriter Extraordinare)

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How do you set a price for an eBook edition?

What’s the right price, relative to the cover price of the printed edition, or relative to the expectations of the eReader market?

This is something I must resolve for myself: when I publish “Owe Nothing” in eBook format (which I am going to do fairly soon), what is the best price? I’ve seen eBooks on sale for $0.00, $0.99, $2.99, $4.99 and so on.

Aside from resolving this particular quandry, I’m beginning to see that eBooks represent a huge benefit to the author-seller: no shipping costs, no inventory, and no re-ordering from the publisher. Admittedly, the burgeoning growth of eBooks, eReaders  and a new author-based publishing market (compared to some noticeable declines in sales for traditional publishers)  is an exciting prospect.

http://www.secure-ebook.com/blog/post/2006/12/12/3-ebook-pricing

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