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Vignettes and eBooks

noun 1.  a decorative design or small illustration used on the titlepage of a book, or at the beginning or end of a chapter. Macquarie Dictionary Publishers, 2019

I recently presented a session on The Well Crafted eBook as part of a workshop on How To Publish an eBook with Ken Vickery at the Bassendean Library. As part of my session I addressed the question of including Vignettes in an eBook. Vignettes can be obtained at a reasonable price from Shutterstock.com.

A sample of vignettes obtained from Shutterstock

Or make your own as we did for Leonie Rogers' Frontier Defiant.

Shanna and her two starcats

The problem with including a picture in an eBook, however, is that it must be able to be viewed on a variety of screens: from phones, to tablets, to computers, as well as on eBook Readers.

As a result we have now standardised on the image required for the printed version (300 dpi) for the Title Page (which is 590 x 270 pixels). The image for Chapter Titles is half that size (ie 295 x 135). For printed books each image has to be separately set.

When including the vignette in an eBook the following specifications are used (unfortunately this is slightly more technical and requires a little more understanding of the html/css interface/. What we are defining however, is as follows:

  • Width - this is the percentage of the page that is to be taken up by the image.
  • Minimum Width - this overrides the width and sets the minimum number of pixels, as the picture may be unrecognisable if it is too small.
  • Maximum Width - this ensures that the image doesn't pixelate by getting viewed beyond up its original size.

In summary:

Title PageChapter Page
Width40%25%
Minimum Width438 px200 px
Maximum Width590 px590 px

For an eBook the picture only has to be included the once, and then linked to its location below the chapter number on each chapter page.

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What size paperback is best?

This is a question that I seem to come back to every couple of years. This time I decided to attack the problem properly.

The first paperback Hague Publishing put out was Barry Dean's The Garden of Emily Washburn. This was sized at 5" x 7 13/16" (12.8 x 19.8cm), and from memory was based on a quick visit to our local bookshop to see what they were stocking. When it came time to put out our second book I thought I'd address it a little more scientifically and approached Google for advice on the most popular size for Trade Publications. The answer was a resounding 6" x 9", which is the size we've generally stuck to for the last couple of years. However, I have never understood why 6x9 is so popular, because it is really too large for comfortable reading, and particularly when a bookseller friend of mine has pointed out on multiple occasions that that format is not a popular size in Australia, and simply won't fit on his shelves. So with the impending release of Leonie Roger's Amethyst Pledge, the first book in a new trilogy, I thought I'd dig a little deeper.

The Book Printing Company states that: the most common (trim) sizes for Trade paperbacks  in Australia are:

  • 5 x 8 inches (203 x 127mm)
  • 5.5 x 8.5 inches (216 x 140mm)
  • 6 x 9 inches (229 x 152mm)

After a couple of minutes work I was able to locate examples of the three sizes in my own bookcase.

In my personal opinion, the 5 x 8" looks by far the better, so why are people using 6 x 9". Well, unsurprisingly, it all comes down to cost, and the fact that our books tend to have more words in them than they did 20 years ago.

Wikibooks points out that smaller books lose disproportionately more space to margins, increasing the cost. A 6"x 9" book has nearly 20% more text space. But a 6"x 9" book costs only about 5% more than a 5.5" x 8.5" book. The result is a 15% cost savings.

In reality the difference in printing costs are negligible. As on 5 Nov 2019 Ingram charges $89.20 AUS for 10 paperback books of 230 pages 5" x 8", and only $91.55 for a 6" x 9" book of the same number of pages. Taking into account that the 6x9 book can hold considerably more words and there you have it.

In Australia we are also restricted to ensuring that the printed book is less than 1.5 cm, to allow us to post it at the cheaper 'paper rate' of $5. If the envelope goes over 2cm it falls into the parcel rate of $11.

I've now done some preliminary formatting of Amethyst Pledge and it looks like using the same font size, spacing, and margins as we did for the Frontier Series the 5 x 8" format will still only require 220 pages, and as we can go to 250 pages we can probably tweak the size of the type up a bit to improve readability.

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Book reviews are important

Reviews - thumbs up

The following was extracted from Judith Briles' guest post entitled 'As the Author World Turns on Amazon Book Review Policies' on Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer. The Blog was posted 21 March 2019.

Authors need reviews on their books. Lots of them.

Once, there are 25, the [Amazon's] robots warm up. More than 50, expect to see cross promotion: book covers pop up on “like” books … “Customers who bought this item also bought …” meaning that your book cover gets displayed on other author pages.

As your reviews build up (think more than 75), Amazon does email blast, suggesting your book cover with the live link to viewers of the site that have shown an “interest” in your category with their searches. How cool is that?

So yes, reviews do count. Big time.

While Judith has anecdotal evidence supporting her claims about the effect of Amazon reviews the comments under the post make clear that this is a contentious area, and even if Judith is correct, as she wrote in response to one comment: "Guaranteed – Amazon always changes its system. What is good today, may not be next week."

Anecdotally, however, I just got an email blast from Amazon.com suggesting I might like Melissa F. Olson's new book Boundary Broken which had, when I checked 69 reviews. OK, OK, Amazon knows that I've bought the previous three books in the series, but still ....

Anyway, regardless of how important reviews are, I think any author would agree that any positive review is helpful, and the more the better.

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The What and Why of Pricing

In the process of releasing Barry Dean's latest book In L.I.E.U. (due out 2 April 2019), Barry asked the excellent question as to how we set the price of the ebook against its paperback companion. While a simple question the answer is more than a little complicated.

Ebook pricing

Hague Publishing initially started as an exclusively ebook publisher and set the price of its books on what I believed an ebook should sell for, which was $5.00 Australian. This was at a time (way back in in 2011) when the Australian dollar enjoyed relative price parity with the US dollar. Basically I set a price which I believed set sufficient value on the author's time and effort in writing the book. This was also in the early days of ebook publishing when those releasing the ebook (e.g. publishers and self-published authors) were still experimenting in price.

When the Australian dollar fell we were able to drop the price to $3.99 US without affecting our author's earnings (as $3.99 US equated to $5 AU and most of our ebook sales come from the US). More recently we have continued the trend and dropped the price to $3.50US. This is slightly higher than the $3-a-book price point independent publishers appear to have settled on (Forbes), but in my view is within shooting distance. The $3 price point is actually a result of Amazon, and Barnes and Noble adopting $2.99 as the point where the royalties paid increase from 35% to 70% for Amazon, and 40% to 65% for B&N. Adopting a general rule of $3.99 also allows us to lower the price we sell the first book in series at while retaining access to the higher royalty rate.

Others have pointed out to me that many ebooks are selling for $8 US or more. However, Adam Rowe (writing for Forbes) pointed out in December 2018 that this pricing was the result of the Big Five publishing houses raising their prices and as a result suffering a 10% drop in epub sale in 2017 (i.e. pricing themselves out of the market).

Paperback pricing (print on demand)

Paperback pricing is a little more difficult as instead of just the 'fair' value to recompense an author you need to consider :

  • the cost of printing, packaging, and postage, and boy is this a killer! Bottom line is that while POD is a wonderful thing you don't really start turning a reasonable profit on anything less than an order of ten books.
  • the cost of the bookseller's discount (somewhere between 45% and 55%)
  • the cost of holding stock, and
  • the cost of posting books to purchasers ($5 for postage within Australia if you can meet the printed matter criteria)

One thing that is worth pointing out is the advice that I received from one bookseller which was: that if no-one wants to buy your book you won't be able to sell it regardless of price. Against that is anecdotal feedback that pricing a book at more than $30 is going to reduce the number of people interested in buying it.

Until recently Hague Publishing has been selling its paperback at between $18 and $21. After reviewing our pricing structure we will be moving to setting an initial list price of around $25. This will permit us to increase the standard booksellers discount from 45% to 55%. It won't affect the price books are provided to our authors (which is set at cost plus 20%), and will allow them more flexibility in what they set their own sale price at.

Profit margins compared

Before finishing a quick aside. Our royalty rates are generally:

  • 45% on ebook net sales
  • 15% on paperback net sales

So for 10 ebooks, selling on Amazon.com at $5AU the author might expect to receive $15.75.

For the same 10 paperbacks, selling at $25 each the author might only receive $11.50.

Based on the above you can see why I prefer ebooks!

Ingram Spark's calculators

For those of you interested you can then use this link to IngramSpark's website to calculate:

  • The amount of compensation from sales to booksellers (you will want to set the wholesale discount level at between 45 and 55% if you actually want a bookseller to stock your book.
  • The cost of actually printing and shipping books.
  • The weight and spine width. To be able to post a book at the letter rate of $5 it must weight less than 500 gm and be thinner (including the packaging) than 20mm.
  • To create a cover template.

I hope this has proved helpful.

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Does online advertising work for books?

Cover of IBPA's The Independent showing computer keyboard

For a recent article in IBPA's The Independent, Linda Carlson put the question of which advertising works to independent publishers and got some interesting, and insightful answers.

Linda's questions focussed on:

  • Print Media Coverage
  • Paid Reviews
  • Giveaways and Deep Discounts
  • Public Relations, and
  • Online Ads

The consensus from those responding were were singularly unenthusiastic about online ads. An example being Devorah Fox's comments, president of Mike Byrnes & Associates in Port Aransas, TX, who reported:

“When we hit 100 likes on our Facebook author page we received $50 in free Facebook advertising. We used it to advertise our book The Lost King with an ad that—per Facebook—could be seen by 22 million people and a Sponsored Story that targeted 940 users. There wasn’t a single click-through, and we can’t attribute a single sale to it.”

The full report is available at: IBPA online - Marketing whatever you have to market - promotion opportunities and issues - part 2

Back in November 2013 I wrote about a recent poll  conducted for USAToday and Bookish, a website designed to help people find and buy books, which asked readers what factors created interest in a particular book for them. The poll got the following responses:

  • 57% - their own opinion of the writer's previous work;
  • 43% - opinions of a relative and friend (ie "word of mouth");
  • 17% - professional reviewers and other writers;
  • 16% - the book cover; and
  • 10% - internet opinions by non-professionals (10%).

In short, people are interested in a book based on previous knowledge of the author's work, word of mouth, or professional reviewers. Advertising simply doesn't get a look in. And if you don't believe that then you need to consider the click-through rates we get on our own adverts:

  • Click Through Rate = 0.05%, i.e. for every 2000 views of an advertisement, we expect to get 1 person clicking the advertisement to visit our site; and
  • Click Rate = 2%, i.e. for every 50 people visiting our site we expect to get 1 sale.

Back in May 2014, for a series of blog-ad designed to be viewed 86,000 times we were paying $330. That probably gave us 43 click-throughs, and some where between one and two sales. It simply doesn't make financial sense. For more information you can read my previous post on this (Marketing for authors: what to expect from click-through and conversion rates).

So does online advertising work for eBooks work? In a word - no.


If, however, given this information you still want to undertake some social marketing then you may want to check out the article in the same edition of The Independent:
IBPA online - A practical guide to social media advertising part 1

For more information about the USAToday poll, and another poll conducted by ebookfairies you can read my previous posts concerning them at:

 

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Statistics, damn statistics, and wishful thinking - the not-death of the ebook

Picture of Kindle headstone

I have to admit to finding it a bit difficult to understand how an increase in eBook sales of 12.3% (from 2013 to 2014) is being peddled as signally the end of the ebook, particularly when sales of the physical book fell by 1.7% over the same period.

Well, actually I can understand it - it's called wishful thinking. What's happening is that the rate of e-book growth has started to slow, and coupled with a slowing in decline of physical book sale the traditionalists are hoping it signals a return to the printed book. Just remember though, according to Nielsen Bookscan, we bought 237 million books back in 2008. In 2013, this had fallen to 184 million, a pretty drastic fall of 22 per cent!

So yes, it appears the book market might be starting to reach some sort of equilibrium, with about one in three books being a digital one, and the rest being physical books. And yes, there is good news for booksellers with Waterstones reporting that  sales of physical books has increased by 5 per cent during December, compared with the same month in 2013. A picture echoed by Sam Husain, the chief executive of Foyles, who said sales at his chain of bookshops had jumped by 8.1 per cent, compared with December the year before.

Bottom line, however, the eBook market continues to expand, and even if its growth slowed further to 9% it will only take five years before eBook sales constitute 50% of the total market.

You can read the full article from the Telegraph here.

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The end to the saga: Hachette blinks

hachette vs amazon imageThe long running 'negotiations' between Hachette and Amazon has finally come to an end. And while it is unclear who ended up winning, Digital Reader believes that  Hachette blinked given that its revenues fell 18% in the third quarter of 2014.

I'm also inclined to this view given that Hachette's parent company reported on 13 November that Hachette’s US revenues were down considerably from last year. While the decline was attributed to difficult comparisons with last year when the company had an “unusually high” number of bestsellers they did admit that the  “difficult situation” with Amazon also impacted sales.

For all of Lagardere Publishing, revenue in the quarter fell 2.9%, but  the sharpest decline by far happened in the US, the unmistakeable conclusion being that at least a major part of this was due to the ongoing contract dispute with Amazon.

The possibility of a circuit breaker in the ongoing dispute was the agreement Amazon negotiated with Simon and Schuster in October - which is probably similiar to what was finally agreed with Hachette. And while it is unclear what was actually agreed here's what both parties said about the new agreement:

  • “We are pleased with this new agreement as it includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices.” [Amazon's David Naggar, press release] (This is the same thing that Amazon said about the deal it reached with Simon & Schuster in October,

  • “Importantly, the percent of revenue on which Hachette authors’ ebook royalties are based will not decrease under this agreement.” [Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch, press release] (Gigaom.com)

So, finally the saga comes to an end, and while no-one is a clear winner, it appears that both parties achieved a little of what they were seeking.

 Read previous posts

And if you want to catch up on the whole sorry saga in the Publishers Weekly

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Swancon 39 Roundup

Arriving home from Swancon 39 my wife asked me how much Cola and sugar I'd had because of how hyper I was - almost, but not quite, bouncing off the walls hyper. So a week after the con finished I can now look back on it and assess how it worked for me. Particularly as this was the first Swancon that I'd actually been on any panels for.

The Guests

Isobelle-Anne-Sally-Jim, Swancons Guests

L-R: Isobelle Carmody, Anne Bishop, Sally Beasley, and Jim Butcher

 

Anne Bishop and Jim Butcher were the international guests of honour. Both very nice people, articulate, with very dissimilar writing styles. I hadn't actually read any of their books, although I had picked up the first in Jim's 'Dresden Files' series when we were in Sydney earlier this year without realising he was the GOH - what can I say, I'm terrible with names. Continue Reading →

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Getting to know us: what makes Hague Publishing tick.

Logo600x600I've just renewed our membership with the Independent Book Publishers' Association, and was filling in the questionnaire provided, originally posed by Jan Nathan, when I thought it would be worth re-posting. So here it is ...

Why did you become a book publisher?

Three years ago I was looking at creating a second career for myself when I retire from the public sector in five years. At the time there weren't many small publishers focussing on the ebook SF&F market (and to the present in Australia that remains the case). I was NOT aware of how all consuming the whole process was going to be, and if I had been I might not have done it.

What do you enjoy most about publishing?

Working with the author to create a finished eBook that we can both be proud of. Secondly being a patron of the arts. Unlike our authors who aren't paid an advance, our illustrators are paid upfront for the work they do in designing our covers and the work they produce is simply stunning. I'm actually in the process of getting some of our covers printed onto canvas for framing. Continue Reading →

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IBPA's new Code of Ethics

Logo - Independent Book Publishers AssociationI am presently the member of two Australian trade associations (APA, SPN), and one international (the Independent Book Publishers Association).  Now, professional associations generally have two conflicting mandates, firstly they have a responsibility to act on behalf of their members, a responsibility which will often have them acting like a cartel or a labor union (trade union) for the members of the profession, though this description is commonly rejected by the body concerned. Secondly professional bodies often act to protect the public by maintaining and enforcing standards of training and ethics in their profession. (Source Wikipedia). One of the primary methods by which this second is achieved is by the development, maintenance, and enforcement of a code of ethics for its members.

Without a Code of Ethics it is difficult for an organisation to discipline or expel a member for acting unethically, as without a code it often difficult to determine whether someone is a fit and proper person to be a member. This is because the question of fitness will differ across occupations, and the matter will often end up in court. With a Code of Ethics the question is simpler, as the expectations of the behaviour of its members is set out in that Code. While the matter may still end up in court, the fact that the Association made a determination against a code of ethics specific to its occupation and membership will make its decision to discipline, suspend, or expel a member is much easier to justify. And personally I can definitely confirm that it makes sacking an unethical employee so much easier.

Which should make it of concern that until recently none of these three associations appears to have had a code of ethics, although this has now changed with the release of IBPA's first Code of Ethics. Continue Reading →

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