A New Year, A New Book

A new project to get my year off to a good start.

2013 was the first year since 1991 that I did not publish a new book.

There are several of reasons for this, none of which I want to get into here. That would make interesting fodder for a future blog post. Don’t worry; I won’t leave you hanging for long.

But it isn’t as if I haven’t been writing — I have been. In addition to this blog, which I’ve tended to quite faithfully since I started it in October 2003, I’ve been working on another book project since late 2012, when I found myself with an outrageous personal story to tell. Unfortunately, I’ve had to put that project aside; I hope to finish it when I know the ending.

Papillon HelicopterToday, however, I started work on the book I’ve been thinking about for the past month or so. Tentatively titled Flying the Canyon: My Season as a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour Pilot, this book will share my experiences from one of the most interesting summers of my life.

Here, I’ll let the book’s draft introduction tell you more:

In the summer of 2004, I realized one of my dreams: I became a helicopter tour pilot at the Grand Canyon.

I was 42 when I got the job and I worked with a bunch of young people — mostly men — some of whom were young enough to be my kids. I met the challenges of working in a sometimes difficult but usually breathtakingly beautiful flying environment, dealing with the personalities of co-workers and management, and trying to please passengers from all over the world. The work was rewarding, frustrating, and enlightening. The flying experience was something I think every helicopter pilot should have.

I also had a very odd experience on one of my flights — an experience that would leave the lingering scar of PTSD on me for many years to come.

I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but by the end of the summer, the novelty had worn off. Friction inside the company made the job less pleasant than it had been. I realized that I was a square peg in a round hole. My real work as a freelance writer was being neglected and my editors were beginning to lose their patience. I was sad to leave, but it was time.

This book is the story of my season at the Grand Canyon. It begins before the beginning by sharing the stories of when I decided I wanted to learn how to fly and the things that I did to gain the skills I’d need to be a tour pilot. It then goes on to tell about my experiences as a pilot at the Canyon — including the unusual occurrence on June 10, 2004 — and my direct interactions with fellow pilots, management, and passengers. Finally, it shares how my feelings about being a Canyon tour pilot changed as the summer came to a close and the events that affected my decision to leave.

Because I’d blogged many of my experiences soon after they happened, much of what I share in these pages is rich with details. But rather than just restate my blog posts, I’ve filled in the gaps between them with the behind-the-scenes stories that I couldn’t make public at the time.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a helicopter tour pilot at the Grand Canyon? Here’s what it was like for me.

As I write, I’ll be pulling a lot of my blog posts about those days offline, probably for good. In a way, my blog has acted as a temporary archive for these stories. Once the book is complete and published, the book will be the permanent archive. I hope to do this with much of the contents of my blog.

Captain MariaToday, I churned out over 4,000 words, completing the introduction (which I just shared here), a Prologue, and Chapter 1, which briefly covers my experiences learning to fly and getting my commercial pilot rating. My goal is to have the entire book finished by month-end — a goal I know I can reach if I can stay focused on my work. (With little else do do this winter, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to find time!)

I’ve toyed with the idea of shopping it around to a mainstream publishing house but will likely self-publish under the Flying M Productions “Real-Life Flying” imprint. The book will be available in print and as an ebook in Kindle, Nook, and iBooks formats. I had quite a bit of success with one of my three self-publishing projects back in 2012, so I’m pretty confident I’ll meet or beat that success with this book.

Of course, since I need to work on the book each morning, that might cut into my blogging time. So expect to see fewer posts here over the next month or so as I write, edit, lay out, and publish this book. More information on where to buy it will be available before month-end.

Comments? You know where to put them!

Apple iBookstore: Understanding Payment Requirements

It’s a royalty agreement, folks.

The other day, I received an unusual email on my Flying M Productions email account. Flying M Productions is my little publishing company, the one I use to publish Maria’s Guides and other books. Its website isn’t much to look at; just a lot of promotional material for the items it publishes and sells. There’s no support for any book there; all support for Maria’s Guides can be found on the Maria’s Guides website.

The Question

Here’s the message, in its entirety; I’ve only omitted the sender name:

I am looking for understanding of this financial requirement for ibooks author:
(Apple does not pay partners until they meet payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory. You should consider this before applying to work directly with Apple as you may receive payments faster by working with an Apple-approved aggregator.)
Apple was not able to explain this and said I had to contact you.
Please explain.

This is obviously a lie — or a big misunderstanding — I seriously doubt whether Apple even knows of the existence of Flying M Productions — especially since I’ve been waiting over a month for it to approve two titles for the iBookstore. The idea that Apple would refer someone to me about one of their policies is truly laughable. The idea that a tiny publisher with just four titles in 20 years would provide support for the most valuable company in the world is a real joke.

And that explains why I didn’t reply.

What’s This About?

But I wanted to know what she was talking about so I did a little search. I wanted to see whether the text she’d included in parentheses was actually present in any Apple agreement. I picked “payment requirements” and “Apple-approved aggregator” as my search phrases.

First I searched the most recent version of the 37-page Ebook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement that I’m required to sign to create books for sale on the iBookstore. No joy.

Then I searched the license agreement for the current version of iBooks Author. No joy.

Then I went online, and followed a bunch of links on the Apple and iTunesConnect websites. I eventually wound up on the requirements page for the Paid Books Account. And there, in the third bullet under the heading “Financial Requirements,” was the full text she’d put in parentheses in her email message.

Apple’s Stand on This

Before I go on, you need to understand two things:

  • Apple does not want everyone capable of typing a sentence and turning it into an epub or iBooks Author document to publish on the iBookstore. Think I’m kidding? Why else would they require ISBNs for every title sold on the iBookstore? That’s just another hurdle for authors/publishers to jump. Why does Apple take this stand? Because Apple (1) doesn’t want to publish crap and (2) doesn’t want to hold the hands of hundreds or thousands of author/publisher wannabes to walk them through the publication process.
  • “Apple-approved aggregators” exist primarily as a support mechanism for Apple. If an author/publisher is too clueless to publish on the iBookstore, Apple wants a way to graciously hand them off to someone else. Thus, they approve aggregators who apparently don’t mind holding hands with clueless authors/publishers in exchange for a fee.

The Requirements page linked to above is another hurdle for authors/publisher to jump. It lists requirements to further weed out the folks they don’t want to deal with. Hell, you have to have a relatively new Mac to publish on the iBookstore — if that doesn’t weed out a bunch of people, nothing will.

What are the Payment Requirements?

But what the person who contacted Flying M Productions was concerned with was the “payment requirements.” Of all the requirements, this is the least onerous. All this means is that Apple won’t pay royalties until you’ve reached certain minimum sales amounts. Why? Well, Apple doesn’t want to deal with thousands of tiny payments every month. Instead, it holds your royalties on account until you’ve earned enough for them to make it worthwhile to pay.

This, by the way, is common. Google has always done this with Adsense. Amazon.com does it for the Kindle Direct Publishing program.

While this may seem to suggest that you need to reach a threshold for each individual territory to get payment for that territory, that’s not what I’m seeing. In fact, I was just paid today for February’s sales. My royalty earnings on sales in each of six territories ranged from a low of $38.73 to a high of $659.40, and I was paid for the total amount earned.

Paragraph 5(c) of the Ebook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement states (in part):

After deducting Apple’s commission from eBook Proceeds, Apple shall either remit to Publisher, or issue a credit in Publisher’s favor, subject to Apple’s standard business practices, including minimum monthly remittance amount thresholds determined by Apple (e.g., $150), the remaining balance by electronic funds transfer (“EFT”) no later than forty-five (45) days following the close of the previous monthly sales period.

This tells me that you need to earn a certain amount of royalties before Apple will pay you and they’re required to pay within 45 days of the close of the period. That’s why I didn’t get my February earnings until April 5 — which is still a hell of a lot better than I get from my traditional print publisher contracts.

The $150 is an example. In looking at my past statements, for periods when I only had one title listed in the iBookstore, I was paid $28 one month and $31 another. Clearly Apple is not waiting for me to earn $150 before it pays me.

How Apple-Approved Aggregators Fit In

In re-reading this Requirements page, I’m thinking that Apple is using this scary sounding “requirement” as a way to encourage authors/publishers to use aggregators. But will aggregators pay more quickly? I can’t see how. Unless Apple uses different thresholds for different publishers? Or aggregators are willing to make payments for very small amounts? Or aggregators are willing to pay before the 45-day period has gone by?

Either way, it’s nothing to get all hot and bothered about.

But I do agree with Apple: if you can’t meet their requirements, use an aggregator.

Amazon KDP Select Double Fail

A contractual failure followed by a customer service failure.

As detailed in this blog post, I enrolled one of my ebooks into the Amazon.com KDP Select program. Almost immediately, I began seeing weird numbers on my royalty statements for the book: Sales at unit prices of 9¢, negative royalties, free books in a period when they were not authorized.

I immediately began a long and frustrating email correspondence with Amazon.com’s “customer service” staff. In this blog post, I’ll share the chain of correspondence that began in January and ended just the other day.

My original message, sent on or around January 10, 2012:

Subject: WTF? Positive unit sales with negative royalties?

This had better be a mistake.

1/7/2012 shows net unit sales of 13 yet net royalties of MINUS (-) $1.40. How is that even possible? Also, why is the royalty rate only 35%? I am set for 70%.

1/7/2012 also shows net unit sales of 169 at 70% royalty. The book sells for $3.99, yet you’ve calculated an “average offer price” of 9¢. How is THAT possible? I never authorized a selling price less than $3.99 except for 12/25 (free).

What’s going on here? Please explain WITHOUT using some canned response that does not apply to my situation.

The response from someone named Prasanna came on January 12 and, as expected, it contained a bunch of canned information:

Hello,

I can certainly understand your concern about the reports reflecting the royalties in negative. I checked our records and was able to confirm that the all the sales made in the week ending 01/07/2012 were completely free sales due to the free promotion you offered for your book.

However, among those free sales, I noticed that there was a refund that was made for your book which was for a sale made in the previous month. It is due to the refund for the sale made in the last month, the royalty amount is appearing as -$1.40.

Further, with reference to the 35% royalty option, I’ve found that one or more copies of your book were sold outside of countries where the 70% Royalty Option is currently applicable. The 70% Royalty Option is only applicable for sales to customers in these sales territories:

Andorra
Austria
Belgium
Canada
France
Germany
Italy
Liechtenstein
Luxembourg
Monaco
San Marino
Switzerland
Spain
United Kingdom (including Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man)
United States
Vatican City

Sales to customers in other locations will receive a 35% royalty. These sales are recorded separately in your royalty reports at the 35% rate.

At this time, the reports don’t show the specific location where your titles were sold. I’ve shared your request for this feature with our business team for consideration as we make future improvements.

Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

This did not make sense. I had authorized only one day as a giveaway for my book: December 25, 2011. That’s the day I advertised it as being free on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. There should be no free book sales in January at all.

I replied on the same day:

I’m sorry, but this is NOT true. The book was offered for sale for free on just one date: 12/25/11. That is NOT in the week ending 1/7/11.

Kindly explain why there were unauthorized giveaways of my book.

This time, Anuradha replied on January 14:

Hello,

Please know, the Prior Six Weeks’ Royalties report shows the sales you’ve made over the past 6 weeks. The total “units sold” and the “units refunded” will fluctuate each week depending on which day you view the reports and the number of sales made over the combined previous six weeks (to date). Keep in mind the “Week ending” column shows the date that the week ends instead of the week beginning.

Thus, as communicated earlier, the refund which is reflects in week ending 01/07/2012, was for a sale made in the previous month. Hence, the royalty amount is appearing as -$1.40, in week ending 01/07/2012.

Further, the price at which we sell your book may not be the same as your list price. This may occur, for example, if we sell your book at a lower price to match a third party’s price for a digital or physical edition of the book, or Amazon’s price for a physical edition of the book and it appears that your title was price matched with a third party’s web site (to match the competitor’s price).

I hope this information is helpful. Thanks for your understanding and for using Amazon KDP.

This information was not helpful. There could not be any “price matching” because the book was available only on Amazon.com due to their KDP Select requirements.

I replied on the same day:

I did not authorize price matching. At least I did not intend to. If I did, kindly tell me where I can de-authorize it.

There is no other version of the book to match to. Amazon has an exclusive for the ebook title. THAT WAS REQUIRED BY AMAZON. The only currently available print copy of the book sells for $14.99. How is 9¢ matching that?

You are obviously picking prices out of thin air and it MUST stop.

On January 18, Violet replied:

Hello Maria,

Our price for your title, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs is $3.99 and it was never offered for $0.99. You can confirm the price here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005ZSZMCS

I hope this helps. Thank you for using Amazon KDP.

Of course, this didn’t help either. I replied on the same day:

No, this does NOT help. Your reports indicate that you sold over 100 copies of the book for 9¢. WHY? You told me it was price matching. There is no price matching since Amazon has an exclusive on the book.

WHAT IS GOING ON? It certainly seems to me that you are either lying on my royalty statements or selling the book for a lower than authorized price. Which is it?

Violet replied again on January 21:

Hello Maria,

I’ve raised a request to the concerned department to check why your title was offered for a lower price in the week ending January 7, 2012.

I will contact you with more information by the end of the day on Wednesday, January 25.

Thanks for your patience.

And then again on January 30:

Hello Maria,

I wanted to send you a quick e-mail to let you know that I’m still researching on this issue. It usually takes 1-2 business days for this sort of research, but in this case it’s taking a little longer. I’m very sorry about this delay.

I’ll be in touch shortly with an answer for you. Thanks for your patience.

I guess “shortly” has a completely different meaning to the folks at Amazon.com than it does to most folks. I didn’t hear from Violet again until March 20 — more than two months after my initial support request. She finally admitted that Amazon had screwed up:

Hello Maria,

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.

Your books’ promotion did not occur as scheduled on December 25th, and began instead on January 6th. A technical error then caused the promotion period to last longer than expected, but this issue has now been resolved.

We’re sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused. Thanks for your understanding.

So let’s get this straight:

  • Amazon did not do my free book promotion on the day I authorized it.
  • All the advertising I did that day to generate interest in a free copy of my book was not only wasted but must have looked like a cheap lie to the people who followed the link and couldn’t get a free book — thus damaging my credibility.
  • Amazon then ran the free book deal for “longer than expected” — a length of time that is still a mystery to me — thus giving away free copies of my book for longer than I wanted the offer to run.

I replied to her message the same day:

Screw-ups like this, and the amount of time it took you to answer my question — more than TWO MONTHS — are why I’ll never be in KDP Select again.

I promoted that book as free on Christmas Day. So I look like a liar to everyone who attempted to get the book that day on YOUR program for free.

By extending the sale beyond the allowable time, you gave away more copies of my book than you should have. How will you compensate me for those lost sales?

You’re already ripping me off — in comparison to other ebook sellers — by charging a bogus distribution fee and cutting my royalty rate to certain countries. You are clearly using your position in the marketplace to take advantage of authors and publishers.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

But I know you don’t care. It’s business as usual at Amazon.com.

Even though I replied to her message by using the same technique I’d been using all along, the automated response I got said:

Our Customer Service department didn’t receive the e-mail message below. If you still need help, please visit one of the pages below so we can quickly provide you with additional information or give assistance via e-mail or phone.

In other words: fuck off, we’re tired of you.

Think KDP Select is a good deal? Think Amazon actually cares about its publishers? Think again.

One Publisher’s Experience with KDP Select

A mistake, pure and simple.

Back in December, I wrote “Amazon’s Bribe to Publishers: KDP Select and the $6 Million Fund,” a blog post where I discussed the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Amazon.com’s attempt to fill that library with books: the KDP Select Program.

The Deal

KDP Select offers Kindle format ebook author/publishers a chance to earn a piece of a monthly $500K or $600K fund. Enrolled books must:

  • Be available for sale on Amazon.com only. In other words, if you enroll a title in KDP Select, you cannot sell the same title as an ebook anywhere else. Amazon.com gets the exclusive right to sell your ebook on Amazon.com.
  • Allow Kindle owners who are also members of Amazon Prime to borrow the enrolled book for as long as they like for free.
  • Keep the enrolled title in the program for complete three-month terms. Once you sign up, there’s no getting out. And if you don’t turn off the automatic renewal option — which is enabled by default, of course — the book is automatically re-enrolled for another three months.

There are other “benefits” as well. For example, you get the option of making your book available for free to anyone on Amazon.com. (Imagine that! They let you give it away!)

The Bait

Compensation comes in the form of a share of the fund. Here’s how Amazon explains it; note the big numbers they use to make author/publisher mouths drool:

Your share of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library Fund is calculated based on a share of the total number of qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles. For example, if the monthly fund amount is $500,000, the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000, and your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 1.5% (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%), or $7,500 for that month.

So according to Amazon, although you’re letting a whole bunch of people read your book for as long as they like for free, you could still make $7,500 (or even more!) in a month on that book.

I Bit

My only ebook title at the time, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs, was selling a few copies here and there on Amazon.com’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBookstore, and BN.com’s NOOK store. Not anywhere near enough to make me feel good about my first attempt at ebook publishing.

I thought for a while about KDP Select. I blogged about it. And I figured, what do I have to lose? So I signed up in December and even did a free book promotion for Christmas Day.

The Results

Over the next three months, I saw the following results:

Transaction Type Units Earnings Per Unit Avg.
Sales at 35% Royalty 2 $2.80 $1.40
Sales at 70% Royalty 37 $92.46 $2.50
Free Book (Christmas Promotion) 333 $0.00 $0.00
KDP Select Borrows 10 $18.40 $1.80
All Transactions 382 $113.30 $0.30

Let’s take a moment to analyze this. Here are the points that jump out at me:

  • Over a three-month period, the KDP Select program earned me a total of $18.40 for this title.
  • During the same period, regular Kindle earnings totaled $95.26. These are actually people who bought my book. I would have earned at least this amount if I had not been on the KDP Select program. I might have earned more if the 10 people who borrowed my book had bought it instead.
  • The average earnings per book borrowed was $1.80; the average earnings per book sold was $2.44 per book (that’s $95.26 ÷ 39).
  • Factoring in the free books, my KDP Program average earnings was less than 6¢ per book (that’s $18.40 ÷ 343).

Of course, this does not take into consideration sales that were lost because the book did not appear in buyer-preferred markets such as the Apple iBookstore and BN.com NOOK store. Based on sales figures before and after the book’s enrollment in the KDP Select program, that could be anywhere from 5 to 15 units per month.

So the KDP Select program earned me $18.40 and possibly lost me quite a bit more.

I don’t see any good from this at all. None. Do you? If so, explain it to me.

The Exposure Argument

A friend of mine who published his first novel on the Kindle platform enrolled his book in KDP Select about a week or two before I did. He and I had discussed it briefly via email before I dove in. He had the same “it’s worth a try” attitude that I did.

The other day, I contacted him with the following question:

How did your KDP Select deal go? Did you make any money worth talking about? I’m about to blog about my experience and was wondering what you thought about it.

His response:

Definitely no money worth talking about, unless that would be about $25! And no borrows at all. However, I’m letting it run for another 3 months. What has been encouraging is working with World Literary Cafe’s free promotion day, which runs through KDP Select’s free promotion days. That doesn’t bring in money directly but does at least bring exposure which has resulted in some sales and hopefully reviews at some point.

And that brings up an interesting point: exposure.

A writer who is just beginning to publish his work (such as my friend) has different goals than a writer who has been publishing her work for years (such as me).

Show Me the Money

I’m in it for the money, pure and simple. As print publishing dies and my existing titles no longer warrant revision, I need something to fill in the income gap if I expect to maintain the freelance lifestyle I’ve enjoyed for the past 20+ years. I need to create a book for a definable market and sell to that market at a price it’s willing to pay. In the ebook world, that price appears to be under $10 — more likely under $5. I did the math and realized that in order to succeed on this path, I need to build a library of long-lived titles and sell an average of 60-80 books a day. That’s why I was initially so disappointed in the sales results for my first book. It wasn’t even a drop in the bucket I needed to fill if I wanted to continue earning a living as a writer — which is what I’ve been doing for 20 years.

But I’m not in it for exposure. I have exposure. I’ve written and published more than 80 books, the vast majority of which are with major publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Peachpit Press, O’Reilly, and Macmillan. I support my books via a Website that gets about 1,000 hits per day. I’m occasionally interviewed on podcasts and video podcasts and have appeared numerous times at Macworld Expo. I may not be a “name brand” like some others who write the kinds of things I do, but I’m certainly quite a step up from those just entering this field.

Expose Yourself

My friend, however, is not in the same position. He’s new to writing novels and, as anyone who has done so can tell you, it’s extremely tough to break in. There’s lots of competition, much of it from best-selling authors that people turn to every time a new title comes out. It’s hard to get recognition for your work, let alone try to sell it when there’s just so much competition.

He’s doing the smart thing — the same thing I did years and years ago when I started out: he’s trying to build a name for himself. To do that, he needs to get his work in front of as many people as he possibly can. He needs his book read and reviewed, preferably with lots of stars and good comments. He needs to begin building a base of readers who not only like this first book, but will be anxiously awaiting his second. And third. Readers who will be willing to show support by paying to read his work.

And that’s why he sees KDP Select as something that might help him in the long run.

Is KDP Select Worth It?

In my mind, no. Definitely not. The exclusivity is enough to convince me that it’s not something I ever want to do again. After all, my third Maria’s Guides book, iBooks Author: Publishing Your First Ebook, is selling like crazy on the iBookstore. If I did an exclusive on Amazon.com, I’d lose out on all of those sales.

But for authors/publishers just starting out and trying to do the best thing for the long haul, it might be worth a shot. My friend seems to think so.

An Objective Comparison of Ebook Distributors

What I’ve noted so far.

I published, through Flying M Productions, my first ebook in October 2011 and have since published two others. (Learn about all of these titles here.) I went mainstream on all of the ebook distributions, choosing Amazon Kindle (custom mobi), Apple iBookstore (epub), and Barnes & Noble NOOK (epub). With about five months of sales and reseller experience, I thought it was about time to share my observations of these three platforms.

For each criteria, I provided a grade and notes to back it up. Remember, this is based on my experience with just these three books. For the iBookstore, I do not include my experience with iBooks Author-generated books in the table; that’s discussed briefly at the end of this post.

Criteria Kindle Store iBookstore NOOK Store
Ease of Publishing A
It’s very easy to get into the Kindle Direct Publishing program and publish books.
C
Apple’s iTunes Connect program requires a lot of paperwork and acceptance of agreements that are often updated. Its interface for publishing is surprisingly unintuitive (for Apple). It requires a unique ISBN for every book sold.
B
Getting into the B&N Pubit program is relatively easy, although there is an approval process that takes some time. Its online book submission process is easy.
Publisher Support D
Publisher support is nearly non-existent. It’s difficult to send questions. Most questions are answered with a “canned” response. Often, I’m told my question needs more research, but an answer never comes.
D
Publisher support is handled primarily through a menu-driven help system that’s poorly designed. It can take more than a week to get an question answered and it’s usually with a “canned” response.
n/a
I have no experience with B&N’s support system.
Ease of Creating Acceptable Documents B
I convert from epub to Kindle using the Kindle Previewer app. This usually goes smoothly the first time around, but it does require that conversion.
C
Apple is extremely particular about formatting and unusual characters in ebook files. For example, it doesn’t like uppercase filename extensions or spaces in file names. This often requires a lot of digging around in epub format files to fix problems. To be fair, I could probably improve my templates to prevent some of the problems I encounter.
B
BN.com accepts just about any epub I send, as long as it isn’t any larger than 20 MB (which I think is too restrictive.)
Appearance of Ebook C
The Kindle format inconsistently formats bulleted lists and font sizes and completely ignores some formatting. As a result, my books are not usually formatted as I’d like to see them.
A
My iBookstore books usually look very good. Apple is true to all epub formatting.
B
My NOOK books usually look very good, although I sometimes notice instances where formatting is ignored.
Speed of Review Process A
Amazon consistently makes my books available for sale within 24 hours of posting.
D
There is no consistency in the speed of Apple’s review process. I had one book appear within an hour of posting while I waited a week or more for others.
B
B&N consistently makes my books available for sale within 48 hours of posting.
Sales A
In most instances, Amazon sells the most books.
B
Apple sells reasonably well — unless a book has an unusual amount of appeal to Mac users, in which case, it sells best.
D
B&N’s sales are sluggish and rather disappointing.
Royalties D
Amazon offers the worst publishing deal. To get 70% royalties, you must price the book between $2.99 and $9.99. The 70% commission rate is only available for books sold to certain countries. All sales to other countries earn just 35%.You must also pay “delivery fee” based on the size of your book file for all books sold at the 70% commission rate. Amazon enforces price matching, so if your book is available for a lower price elsewhere, Amazon will arbitrarily lower the price of your book in the Kindle Store. And don’t even think of getting into the KDP Select Program; that’s something else I need to blog about soon.
A
Apple offers the best publishing deal: 70% flat rate on all books. No hidden costs, no exceptions to the 70% rate.
A
B&N also offers a good publishing deal: 70% flat rate on all books.
Sales & Royalty Reporting C
Amazon’s reporting system is inconsistent and confusing, although it does have up-to-the-minute sales figures. Amazon’s staff does not reply promptly (or at all) to sales/royalty report questions. Reports seem to indicate book sales at unauthorized prices, making me wonder whether Amazon is ripping me off.
A
Apple’s reporting system is updated daily. Reports can be viewed its iTunes Connect website as well as in an extremely well designed iOS app.
B
B&N’s reporting system is minimal but accurate.
Final Grade B
The only reason Amazon gets such a good grade is because it sells a lot of books. Its royalty structure sucks, but I can still earn more there for most titles than anywhere else.
B
Apple’s fair royalty rate and reporting help it score well, but its disappointing sales figures and inconsistent review process keep it from getting a better grade.
C
B&N is a nice platform, but low sales keep it from getting a better grade. In all honesty, if it weren’t for the fact that publishing there was so easy, I probably would’t bother.

Of course, it remains to be seen how well my iBooks 2 interactive (enhanced) books do on the iBookstore, since Apple is taking so damn long to approve them.

Do you have any experience with any of these publishing platforms? If so, what have you observed? Share your thoughts in the Comments for this post.

Is iBooks Author the Right Tool for Publishing Your Ebook?

Answer: It depends.

iBooks Author IconI’ve been working a lot with iBooks Author lately. Not only did I write and publish a 242-page book about it within 2 weeks of the software’s release, but I’m now deep in the process of converting that book into an iBooks Author file. The result will be a special iBooks 2 interactive edition that includes all the bells and whistles I can cram into it: images, interactive images, galleries, videos, tables, sounds, links — you name it. If I could figure out a way to use the 3D image widget to show something meaningful in the book, I would.

The Limitations of iBooks Author-Generated EBooks

Lots of folks wondered why I didn’t just create the original edition of my iBooks Author book with iBooks Author. Indeed, one reviewer on Apple’s iBookstore had the nerve to [unfairly] bash the book because it wasn’t created in that format. (As if I should write my Excel books with Excel or my Mac OS books with TextEdit. But I digress.)

Some people might think the reason is Apple’s “evil” EULA, which prohibits sale of an iBooks Author-generated ebook in any outlet other than the iBookstore. That’s not the reason at all. After all, if I wanted to sell to iBooks 2 users, where else would I sell it?

The reason I didn’t create the original edition of the book in iBooks Author is flexibility.

You see, if I created and published a book about iBooks Author using iBooks Author as my creation and publishing tool, the resulting ebook could only be read by people who meet the following criteria:

  • Have an Apple iTunes account.
  • Are willing to buy from the Apple iBookstore.
  • Have an iPad.
  • Are running iBooks 2 on their iPad.

What percentage of the population do you really think that is?

It’s All about Reaching the Biggest Audience

While I’ll be the first to admit that my book’s target audience is likely to be made up primarily of people who meet this criteria — after all, who wants to develop for a device when they can’t even test it on that device? — by publishing for just that audience, I automatically exclude all the people who want to read it on a Kindle or NOOK or the Kindle/NOOK apps that work on their desktop and laptop computers or other mobile devices.

I see the sales numbers. For this title, about 1/3 of all sales are being made to Kindle and NOOK readers. Do you really think I’d want to cut my sales by 1/3?

In addition, by using iBooks Author to create and publish, I’d exclude the people who might want to read it the old fashioned way: in print. The print edition is available on Amazon.com, BN.com, and at a wide variety of other online booksellers. Because I use a print-on-demand printer that handles all sales and fulfillment for me, I make money on every single copy sold. No, I don’t expect to sell 10,000 copies in print, but heck, even 100 copies is money in the bank. (And yes, I am doing this for money; I earn my living as a writer.)

I reasoned all this out before I began writing. And then I wrote the way I usually do: in InDesign CS5.5, creating a printer-ready document that could also be exported in a matter of minutes to formats for publication in the iBookstore, Kindle store, and NOOK store.

And Speed

Remember, my goal was to get this book done quickly and make sure it was available to readers as soon as possible. That means before my competition did the same.

I’ve learned over more than 20 years of experience as a computer how-to book author that the first book out on a new software product has a competitive edge that sells books. After all, if someone wants a book to teach them how to use software and there’s only one book available, what book do you think they’ll buy?

How do you think my first Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide sold out at Macworld Expo and reached sales rank of #11 (for a short time) on Amazon.com back in 1997? I had a three month jump on the competition.

And I think that’s what bothered me most about the idiotic reviewer on the iBookstore. His comment said something like “why not take a few extra minutes to do it in iBooks Author?” A few extra minutes? This guy has obviously never actually worked with iBooks Author and is a victim of the Apple’s video magic in showing off software features.

The truth of the matter is that iBooks Author is not a quick way to publish a book. Sure, you can throw some text in there and get it out to the public without a lot of effort. But that’s not what iBooks Author is for.

What iBooks Author is Really For

iBooks Author is a tool for creating interactive, multi-media books. Using it for anything less is just plain silly.

Think about it. If you wanted to share just text and images with other readers, why would you use iBooks Author and limit your book’s audience?

Yes, you can argue that the layout features of iBooks Author make it a great tool for fixed-layout designs that can make design-centric books so amazing to browse. But are most books so focused on design that they must have a fixed layout? And aren’t such fixed layouts possible with other electronic book formats that can be read on all platforms? Like maybe PDF?

iBooks Author includes tools for creating interactive elements that can change the meaning of the phrase reading experience. Reading isn’t the important word anymore. Experience is.

Page 4
Page 14
Two pages from my iBooks Author “special edition” ebook in progress. The top page shows an interactive image; the bottom shows an embedded video clip.

iBooks Author’s tools help you communicate your message in ways that are simply not possible with other ebook publishing tools. I’m talking about interactive graphics that zoom and pan when the user touches a label. I’m talking about video and audio that can show how a task is done or provide additional information that no text on a page can convey. I’m talking about photo galleries that save space on the book’s page but can be zoomed out and enjoyed on command in a full-screen view at the reader’s own pace.

And these are just the tools I use in my work. If you’re writing about science or architecture, why not include some 3D views? If you’re an educator, why not include some fully-illustrated review questions? If you’re a corporate communicator, why not include your latest Keynote presentation?

This is what iBooks Author is for: creating multimedia, interactive electronic publications. It isn’t for distributing text and a handful of pictures in a pretty format that only a small percentage of readers can access.

And believe me, it’s not a matter of “taking a few minutes” to whip one of these ebooks up.

You Need Content

Apple’s videos make it look so easy. Sure — all you need to do is drag and drop a 3D image on a widget, set a few options, and publish so the reader can manipulate it with multi-touch gestures. Very cool. But what Apple fails to mention is that someone has to actually create that 3D image in the right format for use in iBooks Author. And that takes more than “a few minutes.”

Right now, I’m faced with the daunting task of creating approximately 75 screencast videos for my book. I spent several hours just setting up and testing my computer and recording software/microphone. Then another hour or two figuring out how I’d edit and save the files. Then it was time to script the videos and record them. And edit them.

Sure, once all that is done, it takes less than a minute to insert each video in an iBooks Author media widget and place it on a page. But it takes a good 30 minutes to create, edit, and save each video.

But the content has to be created before it can be inserted.

(By the way, I’d be recording videos right now if it wasn’t for the fact that my neighbor hired a work crew to remove most of the trees in his yard. Do you think my readers would enjoy listening to chainsaws in the background audio of the videos in my book? No, I don’t think so either. So I’ll be up tonight doing the work I should have been able to do today.)

I Love iBooks Author

Don’t get me wrong. I love iBooks Author. I love the power it gives me to communicate. I love the fact that it makes it easy for me — a words person who couldn’t design her way out of a paper bag — to create beautiful looking publications.

But I haven’t swallowed the Apple Kool-Aid on this one. iBooks Author isn’t the best solution for my publishing needs. After all, I need to earn a living. I need my work to reach the most potential buyers possible. And that means publishing with a tool that enables me to create for the most reader platforms.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t use iBooks Author to create “special editions” of my books — when I have the content to share that makes it worth the effort.

More Self-Publishing Insight

With project #3 done, I have a few more experiences to share.

Late last month I wrote a typically lengthy post about my experiences to date as a self-publisher. At that time, I’d finished two book projects and was in the middle of my third.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not new to publishing. My first self-published book was my 79th book. I’ve been at it for 20 years. But as my publishers begin to cut back on their publication schedules, I had to do something to find a market for my work. My self-publishing solution seemed like a good idea.

The jury is still out, however.

What Book #3 Taught Me

My third and biggest (so far) self-published book.

My most recent project, iBooks Author: Publishing Your First Ebook, taught me a few things:

  • I don’t write as fast as I used to. Sure, I knocked out a 242-page book with 274 screenshots, all laid out in InDesign CS5.5, in about 10 days. But they were grueling days that never seemed to end. And the whole time, I was racing against the clock, doing what I could to be the first book out about iBooks Author. I’m not sure, but I may have succeeded. But I’m really tired.
  • An InDesign to EPub conversion process doesn’t always work as smoothly as it did the last time I did it. Indeed, Apple’s iTunes Producer program kept choking on the epub I created, even though it proofed fine in multiple tools. (Note to self: Make sure the name of the InDesign file does not include spaces. Further note: Make sure all filename extensions are in lowercase. Sheesh.)
  • None of the ebook sellers are interested in providing support for publishers. Amazon.com sends an automated response, follows it up with a canned response two days later, and then ignores subsequent requests for help on the same issue. Apple’s Contact page takes you through a list of possible FAQ responses and then tells you to get an aggregator. Barnes & Noble won’t allow pubs over 20 MB in size. Period. If you don’t know their rules or have a clue what you’re doing, you’re screwed.
  • Amazon.com will squeeze every single penny they can out of a publisher. My final book was huge — after all, it included 274 color screenshots. Amazon.com’s “delivery” fee ate up half of my royalties. I had to recompile the book with all images converted from PNG to JPG to regain about 50¢ per copy in royalties.
  • DRM might not be a good idea. I’d been sitting on the fence about this option and decided to try it for this book. I really thought Amazon.com and Apple’s iBookstore would have had this figured out, but apparently they don’t. On the third day after publication, I was getting complaints from readers. I wound up republishing the iBooks version with DRM turned off. We’ll see what happens with the Kindle version.
  • I hate indexing books. Well, this book didn’t teach me that. Other books taught me years ago. But it did remind me. Unfortunately, when there’s no advance and no guarantee of sales, I can’t afford to hire an indexer. So I have to do it myself.

I Like My POD Printer

A few days ago, I searched for my first self-published book, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs, on Amazon.com and was pleasantly surprised to find both the print and Kindle versions. Apparently, the Amazon.com Website is automatically populated from data in the Ingram Catalog. Since my print books appear in that catalog, they also appear on Amazon.com. The second book was there, too.

What was odd, however, is that the book is available from other booksellers who sell through Amazon. They’re discounting it. I don’t personally care what they sell it for because I don’t earn based on a fixed wholesale price, which is 55% off the retail price. The POD printer gets the money they send, subtracts the cost of production, and sends me the rest. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. We’ll see, I guess.

I should mention that the print books are on Barnes & Noble’s Website, too. BN.com even showed the correct cover photo. (I had to contact Amazon to get the cover photo to show up for the print book.)

Books Do Sell

Although sales for my first two titles were a bit sluggish — and remained so — the third book is selling quite briskly, especially on the iBookstore. I’m able to monitor sales at Apple, Amazon, and BN on a daily basis for the previous day’s sales. I’ve sold about 100 copies in 3-1/2 days.

Oddly, it’s also the most “popular” of my books on Amazon.com right now, even beating out my Lion book. It’s currently #9 in the Graphic Design category in the Kindle store; it was #16 yesterday. (Of course, one of my Mac OS books once hit #11 storewide on Amazon.com, but I fear those days are long gone for me.)

But I’m no fool. I figure I need to sell an average of 80 books a day to make a living doing this. So, in a way, I’m back to where I was when I started my writing career 20 years ago. Back then, I realized that if I wanted to make a living as a writer, I’d have to write a lot of books.

What Are Your Experiences?

Someone recently commented on my first self-publishing post to thank me for sharing my experiences. But I’d like to read what others are going through. Why not use the comments link to share your experiences with me and the others who read this? Surely we can all learn from each other.

I don’t know about you, but I never stop learning.