Pronoun. Finally a truly author-centric publishing entity?

Last week saw the launch of Pronoun, with a promise to provide authors with book creation tools and distribution to all major ebook retail channels. For free. Sounds like Smashwords, right? Yes, except that not only is ebook creation free, Pronoun doesn’t even take a cut! Authors will earn all of the remaining revenue after retail discounts. Taking zero (as in $00.00) profit from an author’s ebook sales, Pronoun will instead generate revenue from its existing publishing and data tracking businesses.

pronoun_logo_512x160

“The publishing industry treats authors like cogs in its machine – not as the creative foundation upon which their long-standing businesses are built,” said Josh Brody, Chief Executive Officer, Pronoun. “With Pronoun, we put authors at the heart of every decision we make as we invest in the power of technology to transform this market. Digital platforms are paving the way for creators across every media industry. We believe books are next.”

At launch, Pronoun lets authors:

  • Create Beautiful Digital Books: Convert an edited manuscript to a professionally designed ebook that is compatible with every e-reader and mobile device. Manage cover art, layout, book descriptions, and keywords in a step-by-step interface.
  • Sell Everywhere: Instantly distribute to all major retail channels: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo. Make unlimited, free updates to Metadata.
  • Market With Analytics: Access the largest proprietary dataset on the digital book market and see relevant, real-time data on books, categories, and market trends.
  • Receive customized suggestions on pricing, categories, keywords, and more – all based on hard data, not guesswork. Track sales, marketing activities, and milestones through a single platform.
  • Get Live Notifications: Opt in to get proactive alerts on daily sales, new book reviews, when books enter a bestseller list, or when an action can improve a book’s position on retailers’ sites.
  • Receive Consolidated Monthly Payments: Get convenient electronic payments for sales across all retailers in a single monthly deposit.
  • Free ISBN: Get a free ISBN for every book published on Pronoun.
  • Build a Publishing Team: Access Pronoun’s network of vetted professional service providers, including editors, cover designers, copy editors, and publicists.

“We’re clearing away more than a hundred years of dust that has settled on the publishing industry and its business model. Over the past few years, our team built a platform that respects everything we love about books, but embraces the new reality of how people discover, purchase, and read them,” said Ben Zhuk, Chief Product Officer, Pronoun. “With Pronoun, authors get the control and support they need so they can spend more time doing what they love – writing.”

Too good to be true? I think not.

Mark Coker’s pearls of wisdom on Oyster

Mark Coker, founder of indie publishing platform Smashwords, wrote an interesting blog post last week on the demise (or “sunsetting” in their own wonderful euphemism) of ebook subscription service Oyster after its buyout by Google. The comments following the post are also interesting. Let’s face it, authors and publishers are living in interesting times…

Oyster

Oyster, just prior to being slurped up by Google.

Photo credit: Basenisa / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The Rime of the Ancient Marketer

Websites, websites every where, Nor any way to link…

The ancient mariner in Coleridge’s wonderful poem that I’ve so horribly pastiched here was undone by an albatross he killed. For indie authors, that albatross is the multitude of social media options and reading-oriented websites that your books can appear on. Half of the latter variety apparently consist of writers promoting their books to other writers, which hardly seems very efficient (unless your book is actually about the writing process).

The statue of the Ancient Mariner, in Watchet, Somerset, about 10 miles from where Coleridge lived and the same county I grew up in.

The statue of the Ancient Mariner, in Watchet, Somerset, about 10 miles from where Coleridge lived and the same county I grew up in. Oddly, he appears to be holding a skateboard. Maybe he got into that after quitting the sea life.

The reality is that there are so many online outlets to publicize and market books for both indie and traditional authors alike that it’s impossible to cover them all. Beyond the obvious ones like Facebook, Twitter and WordPress, there are secondary-but-still-significant ones like Instagram, Wattpad, Bloglovin, and StumbledUpon. In fact, there are so many that it’s not even realistic to list them all on your own blog. I use the right-hand side of this page to lead readers directly to the Amazon pages of my books because that’s the best way to serve someone who might be interested in buying them, but my media kits include well over a dozen other links to different online stores like Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

There are other incredibly important links that I’ve not even mentioned above that can fall by the wayside in the tsunami of marketing activities (hmmm… I smell an ocean theme today!) My YouTube channel, for example. And the ones I’m now going to plug right here: my author pages on Goodreads and Amazon. So to rectify the situation, here are the links to both pages:

My Amazon author page

My Goodreads author page

There. Done. It’s always a bit weird to write about yourself in the third person, but readers visit these pages because they are genuinely interested in the living, breathing writer behind the books. And besides, I don’t have time to invite them all over for tea. Maybe one day I’ll rent a boat and we’ll all sail off from the north Somerset coast for a bit of fishing…

 

Look… a Nook Book!

Unbeknownst to me, Silent Symmetry sneakily popped up in Barnes & Noble’s online store for Nook books sometime over the weekend. For those of you outside the US, Barnes & Noble is a humongous bookstore chain and the Nook is their ereader. (Canadians: think Indigo and Kobo.) Nook gives authors tremendous reach, but since lowly Canucks can’t distribute directly to the Barnes & Noble online store, I needed help from the helpful folks at Smashwords. Here’s a clickable screenshot that will take you to Silent Symmetry’s page on BN.com.

BN screenshot

Smashwords on Publishers Weekly

Further evidence of independent publishing being treated as a legitimate segment of the industry arrived earlier this month as the first monthly Smashwords indie bestseller list appeared on the Publishers Weekly website and in the PW print magazine. 

Pwtiny

Publishers Weekly has been the North American industry bible for almost 150 years, so its recognition of indie published books is hugely significant. Here’s a link to the announcement on the Smashwords blog.

The only downside to this news for a self-published author like me is that Smashwords sales figures are only a portion of book sales. For example, any sales of Silent Symmetry through Amazon, Apple or the Kobo store aren’t reflected by Smashwords since I chose to distribute my book to those retailers by myself. So it remains to be seen whether the mainstream media can figure out a way to truly capture across-the-board sales figures for independently published ebooks. Until then, this is a huge step in the right direction.

Publishers Weekly logo is protected by copyright and reproduced here under a fair use provision under Canadian copyright law.

Yesterday FREE, today free!

It’s a subtle, but important distinction. Yesterday was Silent Symmetry’s last FREE day on Amazon, and today the book is free to be downloaded in other formats on Smashwords here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/334979. So just to recap: it’s free, but you have to pay for it.

I’m putting the finishing touches to publishing for Kobo, and it will hopefully be available shortly through Apple and Nook (Barnes and Noble). I say “hopefully” because Apple makes content creators jump through several Apple-shaped hoops that the other vendors don’t, while B&N seems to not want me to enter my bank information because it’s in Canada. Worst case scenario, I use Smashwords to distribute there too.

SSSmashwords

Here’s what part of the Smashwords Silent Symmetry page looks like. The only drawback to buying through this site is that you have to register, which some people are wary of because Smashwords isn’t a humongous corporate behemoth like Amazon, Apple and B&N that they “trust”. But you have to register on those sites too to be able to download books, and the kicker is that I get a higher commission per book sold through Smashwords. So go ahead: Rage against the capitalist machine! Buy through an indie site! Make me rich!*

Seriously, it doesn’t really matter to me where you buy Silent Symmetry as long as you open the book and start reading it. I’ll keep you posted on the Apple and B&N shenanigans.

*I probably make about 25 cents more per book through Smashwords, but that could buy a starving author like me extra foam on his latte or something.

Epublishing: does it need a “publisher”?

Smashwords founder Mark Coker was interviewed by Audie Cornish on NPR this week about whether publishers are becoming irrelevant in the age of epublishing. It’s a subject I’ve been wondering about too.

Traditional publishers are suddenly facing the curse of “living in interesting times”. As I was preparing the front matter for my Silent Symmetry ebook I realized that I had nothing to put where the name of the publisher usually goes. I mean, it kind of goes with the territory of self-publishing, right? So I wondered, should I put by name? “Published by John B. Dutton” almost seems silly, although literally true. And it got me to wondering, from a reader’s perspective, what is the point of a publisher?

A traditional publisher, in all his glory.

A traditional publisher, in all his glory.

If we’re talking about a novel by an unknown author or even a brand new book by a famous one, you could say that the publisher is a guarantee of quality. For sure, if you see Random House or Penguin on a printed book, you know that there won’t be any spelling mistakes in it, the ink won’t come off on your hands and the pages won’t fall out. But of course rating the quality of the literature itself is always going to be a somewhat personal affair. One reader might find a bestseller by a new author wonderful, the next find it boring. So this quality guarantee doesn’t seem to apply to the content of the novel, only the container (the printed book). In fact, I’d say that the biggest name in publishing today probably isn’t a publisher at all; it’s Oprah. Her book club brand acts as a trusted seal of approval for millions of readers who are hungry to discover great books.

Until recently, the vast majority of people never encountered books that didn’t have a publisher, just as they never watched movies that weren’t preceded by the name of a distributor/studio or listened to pop music recorded without a record label. However no one entered a cinema thinking, “I bet this film will be good – it was financed by Paramount,” or  flipped over an album cover and exclaimed, “Wow – it’s an EMI record!” These brands simply represented the industrial “content machine” constantly churning out material that was at minimum professionally produced, whether or not it was great or awful from a creative standpoint. This was just the way things were because production required video and/or audio recording equipment, manufacturing was done in factories, and physical distribution needed a fleet of vehicles. There was bound to be a movie studio or record label; that was literally the only way to connect creative works with an audience.

"Wow – it's an EMI record!"

“Wow – it’s an EMI record!”

The difference with the world of publishing was that the technology needed to produce the initial work was cheap: a clunky thing that sometimes suffered from mechanical failure called a typewriter (eventually superseded by a clunky thing that crashed all the time called a word processor). Manufacturing still required a big, expensive printing press, while distributing thousands of books nationwide could only be done with industrial-scale logistics and financing.

In the digital realm these hurdles have vanished for writers and musicians. Manufacturing is irrelevant in the age of the download. Distribution is non-physical and merely involves pushing a button to upload digital content. Suddenly readers and listeners are able to consume books and songs unaccompanied by the name and logo of a publisher or record company. Written works that lack a publisher’s stamp of approval are being consumed in enormous quantities. How can a reader decide whether a self-published ebook by an unknown author is any good in that case? Well, pretty much the old-fashioned ways: take a peek inside, read some reviews, ask people who’ve already read it for their opinion. The outcome will be the same: some you win, some you lose.

So suddenly for consumers the name of a “publishing house” on an ebook is as irrelevant as a record label is when they download an mp3. This doesn’t mean that epublishers have no reason to exist. An epublisher should do what traditional publishers do: edit a manuscript, commission a cover and help market the book. Some ebooks with complex formatting might require technical assistance from an epublisher. Yet the fact is that if an author hires people or firms to perform these services, the publisher has been eliminated from the equation.

Will readers of ebooks care? Will pseudo-publishers like Smashwords (which is more like a distributor) fill the void and stand for a certain degree of technical professionalism? Will anyone notice the gap on a book where the publisher’s name used to be? Watch that space…

Here’s the link to the Mark Coker-Audie Cornish NPR interview.