Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Publishing One-Stop-Shop

Have you finished a manuscript? Edited it? Just want to get it out there without fussing around with agents and publishers? Nothing could be easier. I talked to Dan Witters of editorial service Dancing Tree Productions about publishing with Firsty Authors, from uploading your manuscript to making sure the world knows your book exists.

Dan, tell us about Firsty's Author’s Package.
The idea started with an approach to Firsty Group to see whether they could come up with something that would benefit unpublished authors; giving them the chance to get their work published, initially digitally, and also to give them some sort of platform from which to negotiate with print publishers. Firsty had a look at what unpublished authors ideally need and came up with their Author Package.

First you upload your e-book onto a WordPress website, which they create for you. It’s very easy to use and maintain. The first e-book is free and there’s a very competitive charge for subsequent books. You simply upload your work and it’s automatically available for sale on your new website, which has a plug-in to Firsty’s e-commerce site which allows you to take credit card and PayPal payments. This is a huge thing for most people, as the ability to take payments online is a very difficult thing to arrange. Even established businesses struggle getting permission from banks to do this and yet it’s included as part of the package.

Within about a week or so the book will be uploaded onto both Amazon and the Apple iBooks store. Again, if you try and do this yourself you’ll find it very difficult, particularly because Apple tend to give precedence to people uploading large volumes. So, unless you’re uploading a large quantity of books at once you’ll go through quite a slow process. My feeling is that e-books sales are increasing, particularly in America, and I think that it’s going to be increasingly important for all authors to get their work out in e-book form. Publishers seem very slow to understand this.

With this package not only have you got all the above, but also a series of guidance to locating various people and services. This includes cover art, photographic illustrations and editing services. Every writer, whether published or not, needs to be edited.

Firsty has made a list of everything that an unpublished author would need and has provided that at the cheapest price possible. At the moment this is £495. For this you get the full package including website, your first e-book created and uploaded plus the e-commerce facility. You’ll have gone from having a book, which no one wants, to having a website with your book for sale on it; in addition to Amazon, the iBook store and various other stores. This is an extraordinary jump for someone to make in a matter of days.

Do you think that this is the way ahead for publishing?
Absolutely; you see all traditional publishers get hundreds of books sent to them which they send out to readers for assessment and they have to rely on these readers. The fact is that there are some great authors out there who just keep getting rejection slips and over the years these authors simply vanish.

Publishers are turning away people they shouldn’t, as due to the structure of the publishing system it’s very hard to get their full attention. If someone joins Firsty’s website they’ll receive suggestions on how to expand their sales through various marketing techniques. You get three-monthly sales reports, from which you can determine not only how many you’ve sold, but also where you sold them through. You can also check daily the sales that have been made on your website, or on Firsty’s e-book store Firsty Fish. Publishers work on the premise that you’ll sell a lot more in print (although I think that this is about to become a flawed assumption) so they’ll be quite impressed if you can show them you’ve sold this many books electronically over a three month period. Particularly if you can say I’m also selling in the States and Canada etc. By putting the sales sheet in front of them you’re no longer saying ‘do you or don’t you like my book’, you’re saying ‘people love my book and they’ve demonstrated this by paying £5.00 or £8.00 for it’.

Bookshops take about 50% from sales of printed copies. Then there are costs such as printing, distribution and so forth, plus the publisher takes around 15% of the sale price which doesn’t leave much for author. With the Firsty system the person who handles the sale will take between 20% and 30% of the price, which means that 70% or more goes to the person who actually wrote the book. In the traditional market a writer will get anything from 50p to £1.00 per book that sells, whereas if you put an e-book up at £5.00 on your site you’ll actually get close to £4.00 per copy. Consequently a single e-book sale might be worth more in monetary terms than a number of print sales and I think that this is going to become increasingly attractive to authors.

It wouldn’t surprise me if authors soon put their print books through a traditional publisher but reserve their e-books rights and handle this side of it themselves, through their own websites and a system like Firsty’s. This way they’ll be getting the vast majority of the income generated from these sales.
Once you’ve got a digital site and your book is up there you might need an App developed, as either a promotional thing or a follow on to the book itself. Firsty

Won’t the E-book market become swamped, and if so how can we make our book stand out?
That’s definitely going to happen, because what you have is a bottleneck as far as how many books are out there. In the print market this is controlled by the publishing companies, who get literally thousands of books referred to them. So which do they chose and why? We’re now looking at a situation where, for the cost of a couple of hundred pounds, authors can get their books out there. This leaves us in the situation where suddenly there are thousands of e-books available and it will be increasingly difficult to bring yours to the attention of a traditional publisher.

Firsty has done quite a lot of marketing research. They might say, for example, sit down and make a list of all your friends. Go through your email addresses, Facebook or other social media and say to everyone, ‘look I’ve written a book and it’s available on Amazon’. If the book’s priced right most people will buy it, particularly if it’s priced at £1.00 or £1.99. It won’t be hard to ask your friends to download it and see what they think.

From there on it’s just a case of looking at your book’s content and thinking about marketing opportunities. I’ve just edited a memoir for a man who worked in the merchant navy and who’s a member of a merchant navy association that has over 70,000 members. I’ve shown him how to draw it to the attention of those members through websites, newsletters and meetings. This gives him a potential market of at least 70,000 people who’ve probably had similar life experiences and might be interested in his book. These are the sorts of tactics that Firsty’s developing to provide a package to authors, to make a bigger noise than the e-book that’s for sale next to you.

How does someone go about setting a target price for their book?
You have to balance two things: whether you need the income today or whether you’re trying to build your profile while you have a daytime job. If you’re in the situation where writing is something you’re doing as a supplementary income, or you’re building it for your future, then you’ll probably be able to price your book at the £1.00 to £1.99 range, because there’s a big book buying public out there who will happily spend up to £2.00 for your book and not be too concerned about it. If you need to live on the income then you’ve got to consider whether you can increase your price to £4.99. If you have a potential sales market of several thousand then this could become a significant income. However, if it’s a specialist subject then perhaps you can go up to £8.99. I’m very sceptical about the ability of e-books to go past the £9.00 barrier. I think if you do that people will struggle to see the justification because they’ll know that with hard copy there are margins that have to be made by the publisher and bookshops and that that pushes the price up.

There’s a very low tolerance in the e-book market. Once you go past the £9.00 mark people will know that you’re getting £6.00 or £7.00 per copy, which you’d only be getting for a £30 plus book in the shops. So, you have to decide where the book fits into your lifestyle. If you’re looking to get your name established and prove you can sell, then my advice is to stay down at the £1.99 level. If you need the income from it then I’d say price it around £4.99. Only if you believe that you have something exceptional should you go up to £8.99, but there’s little justification to go beyond that.

Can you see student textbooks moving heavily towards this market?
I think that this is a huge market. At the moment it’s controlled by hard copy publishers, but I feel that soon there’ll be a move by writers who produce good textbooks to approach schools and say, ‘Everyone has to be particularly conscious of costs at the moment, particularly students, so here’s a digital textbook I’ve written on this subject. It’s available at my site for £1.00, as opposed to the £20.00 for a university textbook’. This market’s wide open for such material and there’s going to be fierce competition from e-books here over the next few years.

How long would it take an author to get his e-book up onto the major selling sites?
If you approached Firsty on a Monday, and signed up with their Author Package, you’d probably have your website operational and be selling books on your site and Firsty’s by the end of the week or at worst the following week. It would be available for sale on Amazon and the iBook store soon after that.

What about the writers who want their sales to go through the websites they currently hold?
Very few people have an e-commerce resource that allows them to take payment on their sites. With Firsty’s Author Package you not only get that, but you also get digital rights management and protection against digital piracy. Your own website can be made compatible with Firsty’s, which is specifically designed with WordPress so that it can be bolted on to an existing website. So, if someone asks if we can adjust their own site, so that it works in the same manner, then the answer is yes we can.

You touched briefly on promotion, saying that Firsty will be rotating the books. Would you say that most of the promotion will be down to the author themselves?
It’s a joint thing because Firsty has an interest in selling the book. They’ll get their percentage through sales from their website. If sales go through Amazon then Amazon will take the percentage there. But it’s in Firsty’s interest to see these sales turning over, so they’ll be looking at books on an individual basis to see if there is anything that they can do to promote them.

They’ll also be maintaining their website, so that when it opens each day different books are given prominence alongside well known authors. Firsty will also be looking at ways to direct traffic to their site. So when people are putting effort into their own marketing Firsty will be doing the same, also making suggestions on how sales can be increased. It’ll be comforting to know there’s a large corporate entity behind you.

I understand that you’re offering an editorial service.
Yes, I have an editing company called Dancing Tree Productions. A lot of people who have written for the first time don’t appreciate how everyone, from published authors onwards, needs to be edited. We get too involved in our own writing and tend to miss flaws that a good editor will catch.

What Dancing Tree Productions will do is read your book in its entirety and give you a close line-by-line sample editing of the first thirty pages or so. We’ll then give some general comments on the strengths, weaknesses and areas you might develop. This will give you a pretty clear idea of the extent you need editing. Most people are horrified when they see these thirty pages, the syntax, grammar and spelling mistakes or little idiosyncrasies. We charge a nominal fee for the preliminary look at the book and if someone wants us to edit it completely then we’ll quote for that. We provide a reasonably full service and will work with the author towards getting introductions to publishers, giving recommendations from ourselves. So people can come to us for a preliminary or thorough assessment, or even a complete hand holding where we work with the writer from the inception of the idea to negotiation with a publisher.

How can people contact you?
Through our website We’ve got some excellent editors and have three editing services under the one Dancing Tree umbrella. For an example of the website you get with Firsty take a look at Nun The Wiser. Further details are available at Firsty Authors.
Dan Witters runs editorial service Dancing Tree Productions and you can email him directly at:

Reproduced with the kind consent of

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