Helping authors publish

Category: Ebooks

Publishing wide vs Amazon exclusive

One of the questions we ask our authors is whether they want their ebook to be exclusive to Amazon, or available at multiple retailers (commonly known as “going wide”). We will discuss the benefits and disadvantages of both approaches in this article, so that you can make an informed decision about what to do with your own book.

Amazon exclusive

Being exclusive to Amazon means having a single place to track sales, make changes, etc. For some people, that alone is enough to make exclusivity worthwhile. But Amazon does reward exclusive authors with some benefits.

Being exclusive is the only way for an indie book to be included in Kindle Unlimited (often abbreviated to KU), Amazon’s ebook subscription service. Readers pay a fixed monthly fee, and in return, they can read as many KU books as they wish. For people that read a lot, this can be a very good deal. Authors are paid according to how many pages of their books were read. The amount paid per page is tiny, but some authors report that most of their earnings are from Kindle Unlimited page reads.

Kindle Unlimited isn’t the only benefit to bring exclusive. For five days in every ninety, your book can be free, or you can run a countdown deal. Why give your book away for free? Chances are, many more people will download it while it is free. Some of them will review it, and those reviews may help persuade people to buy it once the price goes back up. If they like your writing, they might buy your other books — this is particularly relevant if it’s the first in a series.

When running a countdown deal, the potential buyer sees the normal price as well as the discount price. There is also a countdown clock, to give a sense of urgency and encourage purchase. If your book gets the 70% royalty rate at its usual price, sales during the countdown deal will earn 70%.

Finally, Kindle books sold in Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and India only get the 70% royalty rate if they are exclusive. For most people, these markets represent a very small proportion of sales, so it makes little difference.

Going wide

In the US and UK, Amazon is the market leader in ebook sales. Nobody knows exactly how much market share they have, but it’s generally acknowledged that they are the largest ebook vendor in these countries.

But they are far less dominant in the rest of the world. So being Amazon-exclusive limits your ability to sell elsewhere. Some of these are large markets, and books in English will sell even in countries where it is not the first language. While Amazon has sites in twenty countries, Kobo has over forty and Apple has fifty-one.

Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the book for free, but they have to pay for a subscription. On the other hand, if your book is in a library, people can read the book for free without a monthly subscription. When you opt to go wide, we set up your ebook on Draft2Digital. They distribute to six library services, making your book available to libraries world-wide. In 2021, libraries in the Philippines unexpectedly bought copies of Jen’s children’s book. Those sales were only possible because the book wasn’t exclusive to Amazon.

Ironically, another benefit is that the only way to have a book permanently free (known as a “permafree”) on Amazon is to have that book on sale at other vendors. With books in a series, setting the first one free can be a powerful marketing tactic. The free one hooks readers, who then go on to buy and read the rest of the series. Amazon won’t allow an ebook price to be set to free, but other stores will. Making the same ebook free elsewhere, then asking Amazon to match the free price, is the only way to get them to make an ebook permanently free.

Mistakes to avoid

An ebook needs to be enrolled in KDP Select to access the benefits of exclusivity. Enrolment automatically renews and is for ninety days at a time, but the renewal can be cancelled.

A common mistake is to try and get the best of both worlds by switching between exclusive and wide every few months. We strongly advise against this, because you’re more likely to get the worst of both worlds. A reader on Kobo, for instance, will be unhappy if they buy one of your books, then find they can’t buy the next one because you’ve switched to being Amazon exclusive.

Some authors will complain that they never get sales on the wide vendors, but do nothing to get those sales. Whenever you link to your book, use your Books2Read universal link. That will allow readers to buy from their preferred store. As a bonus, it will direct them to their local store. British readers will go to the UK store and see prices in pounds. Canadians will go to the Canada store and see prices in Canadian dollars, and so on.

Ultimately, being wide is a mindset. If you only think about getting sales on Amazon, there’s little point being elsewhere. But if you think in terms of sales everywhere, then being wide may well suit you and your book.

The hidden advantage of print on demand and ebooks

Our authors’ books are available as ebooks, and as paperbacks using print on demand technology. Both technologies mean the books will never go out of print, unless the author specifically wants them to.

With print on demand, books are printed and bound as they are needed. There is no need for a large up-front investment to pay for a print run, and no need to store hundreds of books. But there is a less obvious advantage which I’d like to discuss here.

When a book is always available, it can benefit from unexpected interest in a way that isn’t possible otherwise. If something creates interest in your book, anyone that wants a copy will be able to buy it if it’s available as an ebook or print on demand.

Where demand comes from

You might be able to drive interest yourself. In an episode of the
AskALLi podcast, Orna Ross talked about promoting one of her older books to coincide with the centenary of an event in the book. This is likely to be a potential marketing hook for historical fiction and non-fiction authors, but there are possibilities for other authors too.

Perhaps someone else will cause a flurry of interest. It’s well known in publishing circles that a celebrity endorsement of a book can drive book sales. The Oprah Effect, named after Oprah Winfrey because her book club always generated a lot of interest and sales. Other celebrities also have book clubs. Reese Witherspoon has one with the stated goal of elevating female voices. The Richard and Judy book club is big in the UK, and Emma Watson has a feminist book club.

Book clubs aren’t the only things that can cause sudden interest in a book. In 2020, a podcast released audio readings of a book titled The Cauldron, written under the pseudonym Zeno. It had been published in 1966 and was out of print. Demand from podcast listeners pushed the price of second-hand copies up from a few pounds to over £100. Had the book been available as an ebook or print on demand, the listeners would have been able to buy copies at a sensible price. The publisher and author would have received their usual share of the sale, too. Second-hand sales at hugely inflated prices benefit the seller, but no-one else.

Unexplained demand

Sometimes it won’t be obvious what caused the interest. In 2021, libraries in the Philippines suddenly bought lots of ebook copies of Jen’s children’s book. We couldn’t find out what had caused this burst of sales. But it was available via the libraries’ supplier, so Jen was able to benefit, even without knowing where the interest came from.

This is the less obvious, and rarely discussed, advantage of print on demand and ebooks. If something provokes interest in your book, or with non-fiction, your book’s subject, readers can find and buy your book immediately, and at a sensible price. You get your standard royalty from those sales. Everybody wins.

To DRM or not to DRM?

One of the questions we ask our authors is whether or not they want to enable DRM for their ebooks. Our recommendation is always not to enable it, but as with everything else, it’s the author’s book and so the final decision is theirs. This article explains what DRM is, why you might want it, and why we always recommend against using it.

What is DRM?

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, which is technology that tries to prevent unauthorised copying of electronic files. There are DRM technologies available for various types of electronic files, but this article is only concerned with ebooks.

In theory, an ebook with DRM can only be viewed on an authorised device. In other words, if you buy a Kindle ebook from Amazon, you can read that ebook on any Kindle app or device that is registered to your Amazon account. If you buy an ebook from Kobo, you can read it on any Kobo app or device registered to your Kobo account. There’s no point uploading your file to a piracy site, since no-one else will be able to read it.

Does it stop piracy?

If it worked as intended, DRM would stop piracy. In practice, for anyone who knows how, removing DRM from ebooks is quick and easy. Most readers don’t know how, of course, but anyone wanting to pirate ebooks can find it out from a quick internet search.

This means that pirates know how to get around the restrictions. Thus, the pirates aren’t affected, and piracy isn’t prevented.

What does it mean for readers?

Most of the time, nothing. But if a reader has been reading books on one platform and decides to move to another, they won’t be able to take any DRM’d books to their new ereader. While it’s possible to strip the DRM to do this, the average user is unlikely to know how.

If the vendor decides to stop selling ebooks, the reader will not be able to read their DRM’d books elsewhere. If you’re thinking that’s unlikely, note that Microsoft stopped selling ebooks as recently as 2019. Back in 2013, Kobo removed all self-published books from its catalogue in what turned out to be a temporary purge. In the early days of Kindles back in 2009, Amazon removed copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from Kindles.

So overall, there is no real benefit to enabling DRM, but you might potentially cause problems for readers.

Reading PDFs on ereaders

A while ago, a friend was thinking about buying an ereader for her husband, who reads a lot of PDFs. She thought it would be great for him to be able to read them on an eink device. She asked for advice, and this post is based on what I told her.

Screenshot of a PDF displayed on a Kindle Paperwhite
Reading a PDF on a Kindle Paperwhite. The page size is A4, but the Kindle has a 6″ screen, so the text is very small and difficult to read.

There are many articles online claiming that Kindles and other ereaders support PDF, or how easy it is to convert PDF to your ereader’s preferred format. They’re right, but with some significant caveats. Reading a PDF on an ereader is a far cry from reading an ePub or mobi format ebook on the same device. The PDF won’t resize and reflow to work nicely on the screen. This leads to a lot of zooming and scrolling. I found it such an unpleasant experience that I bought a 10″ tablet to read PDFs on. I still prefer my Kindle and my Kobo for reading ebooks, but won’t use them for PDFs.

Screenshot of a PDF on a Kindle, zoomed in so that the text is large enough to read.
The same PDF on the same Kindle, zoomed in to make the text large enough to read. The user has to scroll horizontally to read each line.

So, why not convert the PDF to ePub or mobi, and read that on the ereader? Converting PDFs is simple enough using Calibre, but the results are very uncertain. The Calibre manual states that “PDF documents are one of the worst formats to convert from.” If it’s a single-column PDF it might work reasonably well. It won’t be as pretty as the original, paragraph breaks might be in odd places, etc. If the PDF has headers and footers, they will be included in the converted file as if they were a standard part of the text, which can be jarring.

Screenshot of a PDF converted to mobi and displayed on a Kindle Paperwhite.
The same PDF converted to a mobi file to read on a Kindle.

Two-column PDFs won’t convert well at all. The converter doesn’t recognise the columns, and so you get the first line of the first column, then the first line of the second column, second line of the first column, second line of the second column, etc. The result is unreadable. Text boxes and the like can also really mess with it.

If you’re going to read a lot of PDFs, I would strongly recommend something with a 10″ or larger screen. 10″ tablets are common and some are reasonably inexpensive, but many people don’t like reading on a back-lit screen, hence the popularity of eink devices for reading ebooks. Kobo recently announced the Kobo Elipsa, which has a 10.3″ eink screen. This should be excellent for reading PDFs and ebooks, but it’s significantly more expensive than either a standard ereader with a 6″ screen or a 10″ tablet.

Why pay for formatting?

When done well, a reader doesn’t notice a book’s interior formatting. The purpose of the formatting, after all, is not to draw attention to itself, but rather to allow the reader to concentrate on the words in the book and the author’s message. When the interior is not done well, on the other hand, the reader is drawn out of the story. The reader notices the imperfections, and these will lead to a poor impression of the book as a whole.

There are many elements to a book’s interior. Authors are readers first, but as stated earlier, good formatting is invisible and doesn’t get noticed. Consequently, we don’t notice all the little things that make a professional interior. That makes it difficult to create an interior that will live up to a reader’s expectations.

Ebooks add an extra layer of complexity. The interior of a print book is fixed, but with an ebook, the reader can change almost anything. An ebook can be read on a tiny phone screen, a large monitor, or anything in-between. The interior formatting has to be able to adjust elegantly to all these possibilities. The elements of the book (cover, start position, epigraph, dedication, etc) must all be specially coded so that the reader device or software to identify them. It should also contain a metadata table of contents that can be displayed by a menu item or similar, in addition to the standard table of contents at the start of the book.

An ebook file should conform to the ePub standards. If it doesn’t, many vendors will refuse to accept it. A professional formatter understands all these requirements. They will be able to create a file that looks good on any screen, and passes the validation checks performed by vendors so that it will be accepted for sale.

Large print books have their own set of rules and expectations, to make them easier to read for people with limited vision. Some of these contradict the standard rules, so it’s not enough to simply increase the font size.

It’s possible to learn to do this yourself, using online resources to learn how to format a print book interior and an ebook. But these require an investment of time and possibly money, which is unlikely to be worthwhile for most authors. There are also converters online, some of which are free, but the results are unlikely to compare well to the work of a professional.

If you want a professionally designed interior that will allow your readers to enjoy your story, contact us.

Introducing PAIGE: the multi-screen ereader!

We’ve been lucky enough to get hold of the latest in ebook technology. We’re going to share with you some of the secrets of the PAIGE, due in shops soon.

The new PAIGE (which stands for PAIGE Advanced Ink Graph Ereader) uses a number of familiar technologies, along with some additional clever tricks. It is made primarily from super-thin, flexible screen material that has been in development for some years. This means it offers a uniquely tactile dimension to reading ebooks. The hard-wearing case supports and protects the delicate screens. PAIGE is perfect to throw in a bag and take with you anywhere.

The PAIGE’s multiple screens allow all sections of the book to be displayed simultaneously. This is a boon to anyone trying to flick between chapters or keen to have a more visceral measure of how much reading is left than a progress bar. The rendering technology is known as Ink Graph. This essentially uses graphical display concepts to designate where on the screen should be light and dark in a similar way to traditional e-ink. With enough screen real estate for all the content, there’s no need to refresh. The static nature of the screens, coupled with the IG technology, mean the PAIGE has a very low power requirement. The makers claim it could last several years without requiring a recharge. They are confident enough in their claim that cheaper models don’t even have an accessible charging port.

This revolutionary new gizmo also addresses a challenge that has long been the bugbear of ebook designers: you never know how it’s going to look. With so many different shapes and sizes of device, your careful formatting might look all wrong on someone else’s screen. Not so with the PAIGE. The designer has full control over each and every section of how the ebook is displayed on the PAIGE’s many screens. Each PAIGE comes pre-loaded with an ebook designed specifically for that model to ensure perfect compatibility.

The PAIGE is also beautiful. It comes wrapped in art produced specially for the pre-loaded ebook. It is far more exciting that the plain grey rectangles we’re all used to. People will no doubt want to collect many of them to display in their homes.

As with any new format, the PAIGE offers new opportunities and challenges for authors and designers alike. But don’t feel like you have to go it alone on this one – we have expanded our services so we can format your ebooks for a range of PAIGE models.

Overall, this is a really exciting new development and we can’t wait for it to hit the shelves.

Minimum list price for Kindle books

I recently organised a multi-author sale. Several authors (including myself) agreed to reduce the price of one or more of their ebooks to $0.99/£0.99 for a week. I created a page on my website listing the books with links to where they could be bought. Everyone agreed to promote the sale to their newsletter or pay towards a Facebook advertising campaign. So far so good.

I got an unpleasant surprise on the eve of the sale, when I went to reduce the price of one of my books to the required $0.99/£0.99. Amazon wouldn’t let me reduce the price to less than $1.99/£1.25. These minimum prices have been in place since at least 2017, but they don’t get talked about very much, so they’re easy to miss.

The book that I was trying to reduce the price on contains a lot of images, and the file size is about 7MB, much larger than the typical ebook. Kindle books of between 3MB and 10MB have a minimum price of $1.99, even on the 35% royalty option. Kindle books larger than 10MB have a minimum price of $2.99 on the 35% royalty option.

Most ebooks won’t be affected by this, but books with large numbers of images and ebook box sets might be. If you’re planning to run a sale, check the minimum price for your book before you publicise the sale price. In my case, I was able to work around the issue. Since I have multiple books published, I was able to simply put a different book in the sale, one with a file size small enough to allow me to reduce the price as required. This neatly illustrates one of the advantages of having multiple books published — greater flexibility.

The full details of the price limits for different sizes are on the list price requirements page at KDP Help.

How to create and use Reading Lists

Draft2Digital’s Reading Lists allow you to create curated collections of books. You can showcase your own books, or create a list of recommended books in a genre or around a subject. Reading Lists use Universal Book Links (UBLs), so refer to my UBL article if you don’t know how to create them.

Create a Reading List

Log in to your Books2Read account. Hover over the “Link Tools” link at the top-right of the screen, then click “Reading Lists”. To create a new list, click on the “Make a New Reading List” button.

Reading List details page
Entering details

Enter details on the left of the screen. To the right is a preview. Under the “Details” header, you will need to add a name. You can optionally add a tagline. Then open the “Choose Header Image” section. You can choose an image from the drop-down list, or upload your own. Optionally, choose a colour overlay to add, click the bar to choose the colour’s opacity.

Add search terms and BISAC classifications in their sections. These will help the list’s discoverability.

The advanced options allow you to force clicks to a single store, bypassing the book’s UBL page. This is useful when compiling a list of books enrolled in KDP Select, since the books will only be available on Amazon.

You can set a custom link, one that is easier to remember or read out on a podcast.

Add Carousels and Books

When the list details are all filled in, click the “Add Books” button. Carousels are used to organise books in lists. If you have multiple series for instance, you could have a carousel for each series.

Entering the carousel name and description
Entering the carousel name and description

The new page has fields for the carousel name and description. Both can be left empty if preferred.

Adding books to a reading list carousel
Adding books to a carousel

After entering these, click the green box labelled “Click to add books.” This will bring up a search box, which will search your UBLs. You can add multiple books at a time. Select the books you want to add, then click “Add selected books”.

To remove books, click the dustbin icon, select the books to remove, and click “Remove selected books”. To add more books, click the plus icon. Re-order the book covers by dragging and dropping.

To add a new carousel, click “Add carousel” at the bottom of the page. Add books to the new carousel in the same way as the first one. Click “Manage carousels” at the bottom of the page to remove or re-order the carousels.

Using the Reading List

Reading list link
Reading list link

When you’re happy with the layout, click the “Save and continue” button at the top. The last page shows the reading list’s link, and a “Copy link” button, which will copy the link to your clipboard. It also has buttons to share the link to Facebook or Twitter.

If you have multiple series, a reading list is a useful way of showcasing all of them on a single page, with a carousel for each series.

Another option is to list related books or a list of recommended books. I have a Cold War reading list, which includes several of my own books and books by other authors. Because universal book links support affiliate links, you can earn affiliate commission even when a reader buys another author’s book.

Blockchain: Questions and Concerns

Note: a version of this post was first published on the Alliance of Independent AuthorsSelf-Publishing Advice Centre. Their watchdog, John Doppler, added answers and commentary.

It is said that blockchain technologies will revolutionize publishing. The Alliance of Independent Authors has published a white paper about blockchain. The white paper’s authors seem hopeful that blockchain will help authors to reduce their dependency on large vendors. Blockchain may indeed be a wonderful development, but the more I read, the more I find that I have questions and concerns.

Piracy

One of blockchain’s promises is that it will eliminate piracy. No-one has been able to explain to me just how blockchain prevents piracy, however. We all know that current DRM schemes can be cracked, but it should be noted that this isn’t done by breaking the encryption.

To read the book, the end user has to have a copy of the key. The cracking software finds the key and uses that to create an unencrypted copy of the book. Even with blockchain, the user will need a copy of the key, so what is there to stop software finding that key and using it?

Copyright

Another promise is that blockchain will allow authors to register their copyright and store that registration on the blockchain, where anyone can access it.

These look a lot like a technical version of the old practice of an author posting a copy of the manuscript to themselves. The US copyright office specifically says that the practice is not a substitute for registering the copyright, so it seems unlikely that a blockchain-based version would have any legal weight.

There is certainly a benefit in open access to the register, but that could be done with a standard database and website. It’s unclear what advantage is gained by using blockchain.

Ebook Ownership

One of the more intriguing promises of blockchain is the idea that a buyer can own their copy of an ebook, in much the same way as they own a paper book. Part of this is the ability to sell it second-hand. The change of ownership would be registered on the blockchain, and the original owner would lose access to the book.

The blockchain book sellers that I’ve been able to investigate in sufficient detail don’t store the actual book files on the blockchain. All that is stored on the blockchain is a token indicating who has access to the book. The book file itself has to be downloaded from a server. This leaves open the possibility of the server being taken offline, and no-one being able to access the book, just as happened in 2019 when the Microsoft ebook store went offline.

Ownership of an ebook implies that it can be read on whatever device the user prefers. Indeed, in the ALLi white paper, the Publica CEO says that “books can be discovered by readers without having to sign in, sign up, or subscribe to any walled garden, or pay anyone except the author.” But a book bought from Publica can only be read on the Publica app.

Bookchain is another company that sells books on the blockchain. In their case, users read the book in a web browser. That is more open than Publica, but it also implies that users will lose access to the book if Bookchain’s web server is taken offline.

Conclusion

I’m not fundamentally opposed to blockchain. It may become as integral to our everyday lives as the web is now. But most articles that discuss blockchain’s potential in the publishing sphere offer lots of promises with little to no detail about how these promises will be delivered, and that makes me wary. I’d love to get answers to the questions I’ve outlined, so if you have answers, please leave them in the comments.

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