In this post, I’m going to look at the three main e-publishing options available for short stories – amazon, lulu and my own website.
Having decided to experiment with e-publishing I chose a story I’d written while at university and think is pretty good. As much as anything, I want to see what the process is like and whether it’s viable. Obviously, when trying to sell writing, marketing is crucial, and that’s something to look into once I’ve got my head around making it available. There is clearly an option to post writing online for free on various websites like East of the Web or enter competitions etc but, as I said yesterday, I’d like to try this as well. Submitting stories for free is something I’d class as marketing with the hope that it’d lead to something more later on.
As I go through this post I’m going to suggest some of the pros and cons that I think are the major issues, as well as be really upfront about the costs involved – because, after all, that’s partly the point of this. Of course if I just wanted people to read my work, I could distribute it in all sorts of ways but I do want to explore the possibility of making this a more realistic lifestyle eventually. The balancing act required – in all types of publishing – between income (and how that’s divided!) and the price someone is willing to pay – is always going to be a delicate one, and is one that has been squeezed in recent yeras with the development of online purchasing, both digital and hard-copy. Undervaluing fiction is also a negative thing; I strongly believe that to make something sustainable it needs to pay for itself (a discussion I recently also had involving subsidies to the film industry) and I think that when people expect to get a novel for free it makes them less willing to pay for other novels.
This is specifically related to short stories for now, which does make the options more limited – many major e-book distributors require you to have an ISBN just as with a physical book. This clearly makes sense in terms of identification of title and edition, but for a single story it’s not feasible or worthwhile. Which leaves you with:
- Ebook formatted for a specifically designed e-reader (e.g. Amazon Kindle, Apple Ibook software)
- App for a handheld mobile device (Android market, Apple app store)
- Downloadable pdf suitable for any compatible device including most of the above and most brands of e-reader
There’s also a question of where to distribute – given the ISBN issue, I think at the moment it’s pretty limited to Amazon and Lulu.com.
I did find http://www.camillachafer.com/ incredibly useful when formatting the book; a very straightforward and helpful guide
+ Has a major market share, is the first port of call for most people’s online shopping.
+ Very supportive and informative community forum
+ Adds on to your usual Amazon account
– Requires either a US bank account or a UK Business account before it will allow electronic transfer of funds. Otherwise there’s a £/$100 limit for cheques.
Has two royalty structures – 70% or 35%. The 70% comes with additional conditions, for example charging per MB download and requires a minimum $2.99 price which, for a short story, is likely too high considering current novel prices.
Amazon took a LONG time to figure out. This is also because I have a Mac, and their software is aimed at Windows users – the Mac version needs you to work through terminal and therefore have a more complex understanding of how this works. Once figured out, though, it takes about ten minutes to convert a word document to the .mobi format required. Filling in all their information didn’t take too long, you can place the story into two categories to aid browsing and set a price in different currencies for different Amazon sites (.com, .de, .co.uk etc). As yet it’s unclear whether their £100 limit is per site though I expect that is the case. You upload the file, along with a cover image, and set the pricing you want. Each file needs approving, which took about five hours.
+ Easy to use
+ Lower payment threshold; uses paypal
– Convertor doesn’t always work
Lulu enables users to self-publish books, calendars, diaries etc in hard copy or online for download. It claims to be very straightforward to use – upload a word document and it will transform the document into an epub file. Mostly, it is very easy but the convertor kept coming up with an error suggesting my word document had columns in it – it didn’t – so maybe I needed to use an rtf file instead. There’s also less flexibility in appearance, as it only accepts three standard fonts, so it depends how much control you want over that.
+ Most easy to set up
+ Financially the best option
+ No minimum payout threshold
– No passing traffic/browsing possibilities
– Needs a paypal premier account
Setting up a wordpress.com page with the title/synopsis of the story, a ‘Buy Now’ button from paypal to handle the financial side, which when payment is completed takes the buyer to a download link. The paypal account needs to be premier, rather than personal, which means that you can accept credit/debit card payments as well as transactions direct from a bank account. There’s no fee for the account itself, but it does mean transaction fees are slightly higher including for other transactions – if this is a major issue it may be better to set up a separate paypal account for personal / premier, but I’ve not found it to be prohibitively different and I have had one for a while, anyway, as I have sold several items on Ebay that have been paid with by card.
Mobile App development
For the moment, I’m leaving this to one side – I think it’s a very interesting possibility but don’t know enough about the coding required. As far as I can see at the moment, both Android and Apple markets give 70% of the revenue, Android on a monthly basis with a $1 threshold. Android charges a one-off $25 registration fee, Apple an annual $99
Revenue summary, based on a 75p charge (c. $0.99):*
20p per transaction + 3.4% fee
No handling/download charge; based on 35% royalty option
64p basic handling charge, then 1% of the net profit – so this barely covers their basic charge