Sunday, 4 March 2012

New Writers And The EBook

What do digital formats offer new writers? It's easier to get published, no? I quiz Dan Witters from Kiwa Media, who makes e-books and apps for major publishers and indie authors alike, in this second of five interviews.
I write short stories, Dan, so what can the e-book format do for me?
E-books are extremely cheap - most people producing e-book conversions are doing it for about £100, which is well within the reach of new authors and freelance writers who might be concentrating on short story collections. But the people uploading the e-books to sales sites - and I don’t just mean the big ones like Amazon or Google - are reluctant to take work that hasn’t already been published in print format.

Traditionally both publisher and writer would have hoped to see a financial return from published material after publication costs. Then came e-books and the cost of publishing suddenly vanished. Unlike in traditional publishing, there are no print costs with e-books. No publishing, storage or insurance costs. Transport costs don’t exist and there’s no returns cost either, so the expense associated in actually producing an e-book is minimal. Logically, therefore, you would have thought this would make it much easier for new writers to get published.

This isn’t the case then?
Well, you can get your book completed in e-book format easily, but the question is who will host the sale? The costs incurred by the e-books sales sites are considerable, bearing in mind the level of expertise and technical knowledge required to set up, administer them and take online credit card payments. So while it originally looked like the e-book was going to sidestep the traditional publishers' cost-based objections to taking on new writers, the hosting sites have now become their digital equivalents, saying, “No, I don’t want that unknown book that doesn’t have tested sales figures”. Many e-book hosting sites now stick to churning out e-books from traditional print publishers because they know they will make money. And so we’ve come full circle.
OK, so its up to me to make people aware of my digital book then. How do I do that?
That’s a good question; it’s the biggest single problem in this area. Traditionally you could simply walk into a Waterstone’s, or any other good bookshop, and have the opportunity to see and buy a good selection of quality books. But how do you do that with an e-book or app? We recently released an excellent app from one of the world’s biggest publishers. The voice-over is done by an extremely well known actor. You’d think that these components, combined with a historically bestselling title, would ensure a good take off , but the app hasn’t sold even moderately well. Why? Because of the issue you just raised - how do you let people know it’s out there? E-book publicity is a huge issue.

On the other hand, I’m currently working with a group of people from a TV show that has a very high profile and therefore is attractive to newspapers. That’s what’s needed to get this kind of product selling. Because of the TV show, newspapers are always happy to run an editorial on the product. It’s what they are increasingly looking for.

When newspapers cover the e-book or app, sales boom, but as publicity dies off the hits on the website die off too, as does the advertising drawn to it. Therefore any newspaper with a pay wall is receptive to any ideas that will increase hits on their websites. If you have an app featuring a well known celebrity, whose TV show is in vogue, it’s extremely easy to get coverage on newspaper websites and thus it sells well. These days high quality high content apps are much harder to sell than less sophisticated content based around a celeb.

So marketing is crucial, not to mention extremely difficult. In this new industry we’re all working on ways to get better viewing of our apps and constantly thinking up tricks to get people’s attention. Such ways of working are largely outside the reach of a new author. Even if you did get your e-book up on someone’s site, how does this site direct people’s attention to your product? We’re still in the very early days and simply haven’t found anything that will get a new writer to the attention of the buying public.

So it's up to me as the new writer to think in new ways, too?
Yes, because we all have to contend with the sheer volume of stuff up there. When apps move, as they most certainly will, to the Android and probably Windows MS platforms - not to mention the new generation of touch-screen computers - the amount of e-books and apps available is going to be more incredible still.

We all have to think about how we draw people’s attention to sites that host books. Google does this very well, as does Amazon. They rotate books across their home page and that gets people looking at them time and again. Those are well established print books, though; we’ve been trying hard to get such sites to set up areas to promote new art and writing from new authors. I’m suggesting to these people that they see it as an obligation to take on new writers, because the next Harry Potter is out there somewhere. It’s important that new authors somehow get to the public’s attention.

Reproduced with the kind permission of

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