Euan Mitchell is Australia's foremost expert on self-publishing, or indie publishing, as it is increasingly becoming known. He's helped thousands of people down the often perilous track of indie publishing. A writer, a publisher, a lecturer, his interest in this field began with the publication of his own novel, Feral Tracks in 1998.
Euan self-published Feral Tracks after it was rejected by 25 literary agents and publishers. After its success, Hardie Grant published Euan's first non-fiction publication, Self-Publishing Made Simple: the Ultimate Australian Guide. Euan then started his own publishing imprint, OverDog Press, to release the second edition of the work. In 2014 he publishedYour Book Publishing Options: How to Make and Market Ebooks and Print Books with the support of the Australian Society of Authors.
Euan has a PhD in Creative Writing from Victoria University. He taught at Box Hill Institute of TAFE and now teaches at Swinburne University.
Nic Brasch: Euan Mitchell is Australia's foremost expert on self-publishing, or indie publishing, as it is increasingly becoming better known. A writer, a publisher, a lecturer, his interest in this field began with the publication of his own novel, Feral Tracks in 1998.
Since then, he's helped thousands of people down the often perilous track of indie publishing. I'm delighted he's agreed to talk today for this special episode of The Garret on indie publishing. Euan, welcome to The Garret.
Euan Mitchell: Thank you very much, Nicholas.
Nic: Were books a part of your early life? Did you grow up in a house where books were…?
Euan: They were very much encouraged, but to be honest, I was a reluctant reader. It had to be the right sort of book, and not just necessarily the stereotypical action books, but ones that really interested me.
Nic: So, could you give me some names of authors or books that you recall really striking a chord?
Euan: My favourite author from school days was George Orwell. The very simple language, very dense on concepts, and while I wouldn't class myself as a science fiction aficionado, his vision of the future with Nineteen Eight-four really struck a chord with me. And although Animal Farm was specifically about Stalin in terms of all dictators, it taught me a lot about power and politics, and I couldn't believe how he did it through a farmyard story.
Nic: You mean to say you were a reluctant reader. Was there a point in which you became an... Well, there must have been. At what point did you become an enthusiastic reader?
Euan: Well, it wasn't really until uni, and someone introduced me to David Foster's books, and the first one I read was about a heavy metal band in Canberra called, Plumbum. I just thought it was hilarious, and then I read Dog Rock, and I just kept reading David Foster. So, that is where it went from being an interesting pastime. I found George Orwell amazing in terms of learning about how the world worked. But just for pure joy, it was David Foster. And, he's probably famous for not being famous as an Australian author. He's won the Miles Franklin. I think that was in 1997, but I was reading him in the 80s and just enjoying him tremendously. I really moved on to other writers from there and I would say I have a really eclectic, general taste in both fiction and non-fiction, partly influenced by my students.
Nic: What were you studying at university?
Euan: I did an Arts degree.
Nic: And majoring in what?
Euan: Well, maths and music.
Nic: Goodness me.
Euan: I know it sounds unlikely but…
Nic: No, there's a lot of similarities between maths and music, but you don't usually hear maths as part of an Arts degree. From there, what set you on the path of writing and editing professionally?
Euan: Well, after finishing Arts degree I came out over-educated and under-qualified, I think is the right order. So, I played in bands around Melbourne. We were never The Rolling Stones, and we just played around the local pubs circuit. But we got to the point of we released a single, back in those days it was vinyl, we're talking the late 80s. After that experience I thought, ‘You know what? I better get a Dip Ed and become a music and/or maths teacher’.
So, I went back to Melbourne uni, did the Dip Ed, but when I came out, that was the end of 92, and for those who remember, Jeff Kennett had just got into power, and there were huge cuts to the number of staff at schools, which actually ended up doing me a favour because I looked for a job in music education publishing. You can see how that fits with that background.
I was really lucky to get a job with Ausmusic, who were amongst many of their activities they were a music education publisher.
So, for over four years I worked as a staff writer then an editor, then a commissioning editor, and ended up being the publisher, if you like, at Ausmusic. That meant day in, day out, nine to five, I just wrote, averaged a thousand words a day. I didn't have to be the expert. I talked to the experts and then made it all simple and coherent and they were student workbooks, teacher manuals.
There was a curriculum I actually wrote, that was another story, but with all the accreditation. But it was just that daily work of writing. There was no glamour, really. There were no grants. It was just, you sit down, you write, you clock off and you're done for the day.
Nic: You said before, just going back, you said you released a single as a band. Was that with a company? Was that self-published?
Euan: Well, that was the thing.
Nic: So that was your first introduction to the world of indie publishing, if you like.
Euan: It was, and I'm going to make that link because you have just pointed to there that musicians and beginner filmmakers, everything's indie to begin with. You invest in your own music, your own films, unless you're very lucky to have someone else invest in them.
So later on, when I put out my own first novel, despite having worked in publishing, it didn't seem a big deal and there was no stigma in my mind about self-publishing. It's just what you do. We'll come back to that point, maybe.
Nic: Yeah, no, and you talk about working for a publisher, which you then did for a while. You went there straight from Ausmusic?
Euan: Well, from Ausmusic the experience I had was enough to get me a job as a senior editor with Reed Publishing, so R E E D. They are a multinational. They've changed their form now, but this is in the mid to late 90s. And Reed was a fantastic experience, because it gave me the inside running on how mainstream publishing worked.
But in all honesty, great training ground and great experience, but the pay wasn't that great and I had a mortgage and two kids, and my wife was working part-time.
So, I started working for Australian Business Writing. I can say their name, they don't actually exist anymore, but I learned about business writing or writing for corporates. So, their annual reports and their documents and writing for their clients, and that was really well paid. So, my wife and I ran a business writing company for three years while the kids were young. We had a really good client base. She was great on the phones and I'd do all the grunt work out the back, if you like. We got to a point where we were about to ramp up the business, move beyond our home and rent an office space, but I'd just started teaching one subject at TAFE, at Swinburne actually, in 2001, and I really enjoyed it. One of my students asked me for a reference for a post grad degree, and I thought, ‘Maybe I should apply for a scholarship to do one’.
So, the end of 2001 I won a scholarship to do my PhD. So, I'd moved out of Aussie independent publishing through major publishing through corporate writing, and really since... Well, I started at the beginning of 2002. I've taught all the way through over a decade while the revolution in digital publishing has taken place.
Nic: Well let's talk about where it all started, which was with Feral Tracks. Firstly, what made you decide to tell your story? To write your story?
Euan: Well this will sound pretty dumb, but I was at a dinner party in about 1995 and I told a story at the table about working on a cattle station at 16 in the Kimberley. One of the people at the table said, ‘You know, you ought to write that down as a story’, and it hadn't actually occurred to me that, hey, I've been paid to be a professional writer for two years. But because I was working in music education it never occurred to me to write a personal story. I thought, ‘All right. I'll do that’. I thought, just to save it for my memory – because I've increasingly found out now I'm 56 that memory does play tricks on you. So, I'm glad I got them down. This is when I was, I would have been about 32, 33 when we had that talk at the dinner table.
And one short story led to another. But it was about a year and a half into the process I realised, ‘I could actually turn this into a novel’, which ended up... And I pitched that to 25 publishers and literary agents. They all said no.
So, I thought, ‘Well, damn it. I see Matthew Reilly is just self-published and he's gone on to do something really good’. That was in 97. So, I had a go in 98 and self-published Feral Tracks.
Nic: So, Matthew Reilly's success story really prompted you to do it and why you put it out there?
Euan: Oh, yeah. Inspired. I was really inspired he put it out there. Again, I don't think you... Well, he's gone on to amazing success, but he didn't have any of that stigma either. That's what you do. You invest in yourself and you put your book out there.
I mean, I discovered there was a whole tradition of self-publishing. Patrick White, the Nobel Laureate, had self-published. Beatrix Potter. Tolstoy had put four-and-a-half thousand rubles into War and Peace. Lonely Planet, Australia's biggest self-publishing success story that began on a kitchen table here in Melbourne. So, there are many more.
But when I launched it at the end of 98, the key thing I then discovered after being asked to... Well, I'd pitched the book to John Faine show and being asked to be interviewed in the ABC. It was just before Christmas in 1998, and when I got home from the interview, which was only about an hour from Southbank back to where I live in Melbourne, and there were orders coming off the fax...
Nic: Oh, goodness me.
Euan: …From people having heard the interview, gone into shops. We were only self-distributing. So, my wife and I going around to stores, ‘Would you like to stock this book?’ Not everyone would say yes. That's when a distributor came into the picture.
This is something I hope to get across just in this interview. There are dedicated companies out there that distribute books. They're not necessarily Penguin or Macmillan, but you can Google them. We signed with one of three distributors who pitched for our business after the demand was created through the publicity on ABC radio.
They were terrific because it meant then... I suddenly worked out, ‘Right. Publicity's really important’. Because even though I'd been an editor and I'd work with the designers closely in the studio, so I was happy with the editing of the book and the writing, the editing, and the packaging of the book, I didn't know that much about the distribution and sales. So that gave me time then to pitch the book to the media while the distributors did the time consuming work. It doesn't sound time consuming, but it is, to pack the books so they arrive in mint condition and do all the invoicing.
So, we got on with that and I printed 2,000 copies to begin with and I thought, ‘Well, if I'm lucky, if I go around doing talks in schools I might be able to sell them in a few years’. I ended up selling out in 10 weeks. I reprinted 5,000 after that.
Nic: I mean, that's a large number of books, isn't it?
Euan: Well, it's good to point that out because selling 3,000 books in Australia is actually, you're doing pretty well, which is an important point to keep in mind if people are pitching their book to major publishers. Okay, that's great if Penguin, Random House, Macmillan, or Harper Collins pick up your book. Great. But if you're with Penguin, Random House, your first print run is going to be about 6,000 or 7,000 copies.
If they don’t sell out, as one or more of my colleagues have been that unfortunate, well great that they’ll sign them at the major, but having sold their first print run you’ll be looked on as though you’ve really not lived up to expectations. But you do that with a small to medium Australian publishers, sell 3,000 copies, great.
Nic: Sure. But that process you went through, the marketing, initially the distribution, that takes a lot of time.
Euan: It does.
Nic: It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of time and your return from selling a couple of thousand books, at that point particularly – we can talk about today’s landscape, which is completely different – it must have looked like, you still must have wished you’ve gone with a… had been picked up by a major publisher. The time and effort is involved in that for what you’re going to get is, you know? Oppressive.
Euan: I agree because having the distributor on board freed me up to do the publicity.
Euan: The publicity, pitching, that would be sending a copy of the book and a media release to a company. That was time consuming. After Feral Tracks, I sold quite a few thousand copies and was picked up by Asylum films and had the screen rights options, and got shortlisted for the Western Australian Young Reader Book Award, because I should have… it was a young adult-adult crossover novel. It was based on when I was 16 hitch hiking around Australia and the centre piece was set on a cattle station in the Kimberley. So, the connection back to those early stories.
But when that had finished, Hardie Grant said, ‘Do you want to write a book on self-publishing?’ And that came out in 2000, Self-publishing Made Simple.
But as part of answering your question on that, that was terrific working in a team where I had an editor, and all printing was looked after, and the publicist, I could work directly with her. It was really great working in a team but I’d learned to do it on my own to begin with and then fit in with the company.
Nic: Assuming you saw the irony of self-publishing made easy, being published by a traditional publisher and…
Euan: I can add to that. Sandie Grant who was the co-proprietor of Hardie Grant, he was actually the head of the Australian Publishers Association at the time. He launched the book at the Victorian Writer Centre as it was back then, back in Fitzroy.
Nic: Okay. With the self-publishing guide, was that purely experience based or is that when you started doing a lot of research into the world of self-publishing?
Euan: It was anchored to my experience but then a lot of research had to follow. You had to be very specific and clear if say you were describing an ISBN, exactly what it stood for, how many digits, where you got if from, what was likely the cost. So, you’d go through and research those things, and something you’d done as a one-off. You had to go back and check is that the way it’s always done and how much does it cost and how much has it changed.
But the workflow format that I put it in, so you started with the manuscript and edited it, that was stage one. Then you did the pre-press, get it ready for printing. That was stage two. Then the printing was stage three, then the distribution and marketing, stage four. Thinking that through and how to present it very simply, I really had to draw on my background in educational design on how to do that. For me that fitted quite well.
I’ve got to just add, I only wanted to write one novel, that was it. The fact that I have written a few books since, I still find ironic. But I also find a lot of people know me as the indie publishing guy or self-publishing guy, and they don’t realise, hang on there if you work for over four years doing about 1,000 words a day, that means you had published something between 800,000 and a million words. Yes, I did.
Look up the National Library of Australian Records just to find out what those books were. They’re all listed. Well actually most of them, they’re not quite all there. I think Reuben slacked on sending some of them in, but don’t tell any of that!
Nic: Back then when we’re talking about the self-publishing as it was referred to back then, we are talking about print copies. Take us through the way that the landscape has changed since then, comment on that, and then we’ll start talking about ways in which people who are out there, who want to be published, why it’s an advantage even to be published, to self-published or indie publish, we’ll get on to that. But tell me about the landscape changing.
Euan: Well the words for evolution and paradigm shift are overused and sometimes it can be applied to the new brand of ice cream. This is nothing short of the biggest revolution in literary communication that we are just living through, or just lived through, since Gutenberg’s day in the 1450s when he got the printing press going. Because again, people say the model has changed, it has changed since… I’m going to zero in on the year 2011. Yeah, I know there were ebooks before that and at first all press print books now, but in 2011 The Red Group went burst. That was Angus & Robertson, there might be a few isolated stores that are still in existence. Borders Group went burst worldwide. And we had Kindles arrive in Dick Smith stores. You could buy them directly from Amazon, but in retail Australian stores, Dick Smith stores as we remember them stocked them. The Book Depository was bought by Amazon, the UK discount book service, because it was competing really well and Amazon bought it.
It was a huge year of upheaval and through this time ebooks, the popularity of ebooks burst through the levels they always could have done since the Internet arrived in the early 90s. But then 2011 they just took off. Now that plateaued at around 25% to 30% of the market. But then we’re talking going from under 10% and getting up quickly towards that 20%-25%.
So, 2011 I put out the second edition of Self-publishing Made Simple myself. I’ve got to just quickly, here’s a lesson for people who are thinking about well a publisher or a literary agent didn’t pick up my book, should I just do it? After five years of that first edition of Self-publishing Made Simple, a wonderful publisher Hardie Grant. But they said to me after five years, ‘We are only selling 40 copies a month’. I thought, ‘Is that all that bad after five years, 40 copies a month?’ I said, ‘Well, do the math and multiply that by 12. You’ll have 480. Yeah it’s under 500’. ‘Nothing personal but we’re not going to do a second edition’. I said, ‘Well I’ll do a second edition’.
So, to someone listening to this and thinking, ‘Right, a book can be viable and be actually selling, but it won’t necessarily be selling in the numbers required by a publisher to make it viable’.
So therefore, it’s a niche book. Maybe they have a niche book and it is better suited to indie or self-publishing and that a major publisher just may not be interested in.
But, fast-forwarding that to 2011, Self-publishing Made Simple has gone out of print. I thought, right, I can leave it there, I helped a lot of writers get their work into orbit and concentrate on my own writing and teaching.
Then the Australian Society of Authors commissioned me to write a book, the boss was down in August 2011 for the Melbourne Writers Festival, and that book ended up becoming Your Book Publishing Options: How to Make and Market ebooks and Print Books.
Well, they commissioned it, then halfway through the process I said, ‘Look, I think I should put this out myself’. They said, ‘Well why? We’re happy to publish it’ – under Keesing Press, their imprint – ‘and you can say it’s published’.
And I was saying, that doesn’t really worry me. But I know when I go out there and talk to people in workshops, they’re going to say to me, ‘It’s all right for you Euan. You had the help of a publisher putting this book out. It might look professionally done, but unlike us’. I thought I better put it out under my own imprint, and you can put it in the ASA’s bookstore online so you have it there for people to ring up when they have a bit DYI publishing, and they agreed to that.
So, they came in 2014, and since then I’ve continued helping indie writers publish with ebooks and print-on-demand books and really a whole new paradigm or model since what happened in 2011.
Nic: Okay. So, let’s talk, I’ll ask you is there a difference between self-publishing or indie publishing in the terms or is it merely a semantic thing, is it merely because people don’t want to be called self-publisher anymore and it’s cooler to be an indie publisher?
Euan: It is cool.
Nic: Because when I think of indie publisher I’m thinking of the small publishers. There’s a confusion.
Euan: There is a confusion. It’s probably a very deliberate one. There’ll be some people who, purists who says, ‘Look, an indie publisher is only a published author who chooses to self-publish’. Like David Mamet, Pulitzer Prize winner who has no trouble getting published, but decided for – and this is what some published authors do for the reasons of editorial control and higher royalty rights – decided to sell published.
It might be experimental works. Or I’ve run into a number of published authors who have out-of-print titles and then publishers don’t want to reinvest in bringing them back into circulation, so they put the money in themselves, bring them back as ebooks and/or print-on-demand books, because they might only be selling 200, 300 copies a year of those books but if you have a few of them, over a number of years that adds up.
People might be thinking, ‘But why wouldn’t a major publisher put a book out again if it’s an ebook? They don’t have to print it?’ Well, someone has to format it and get it all ready, and that takes time and money to do. Not huge amounts, but it still takes an investment. A publisher has got to be thinking ahead.
But having said all that, I guess it should go without saying in the age of ebooks, there is no reason for any book that has ever been published to now be out-of-print because you can just put it into a text form, you don’t have to print it, stick it up there online and if it sells one book every ten years, it’s still there and available.
Nic: Okay. So, we’ve got people out there listening, they’ve sent manuscripts to publishers and they’ve been rejected. Once they sit, they go, ‘I want to go down this path’. How do they do it? Where do they start?
Euan: I’m going to say don’t take the rejection too personally in the sense that you might think, ‘Oh, I’ve really got nothing to say. I’ve just been told it’s not very good’. Keep that niche market argument in mind. You might have a very valid and interesting thing to say but they’re thinking, ‘Well, it’s not going to sell on big enough quantities’.
Now, a lot of people do give up and say, ‘Well, I’m not going to stoop to self-publishing. It’s like vanity publishing’. To which I’d say, no hang on, vanity publishers are those who tell an author, ‘Oh, you’re next big thing. You’re going to sell thousands of copies. Just give us lots of money and we might give you a few print copies and we’ll put it in our website and pretend that’s a distribution service’.
No, self-publishing is different to vanity publishing. I should quickly add, custom publishers are different to vanity publishers. The big difference is, custom publishers, yeah they’ll edit your book, they’ll organise the cover, they might even organise the printing if you want them to, but they will not exaggerate the likely appeal of your book. But unfortunately, what happens is if a writer goes to a custom publisher and they say, ‘Oh, this is… we really like this book. We reckon it might sell 1,000 copies’. And the author goes to a vanity person saying, ‘Oh, thousands’. Who are you going to go with?
Nic: There are a lot of companies out there both custom and vanity, it’s a very confusing landscape. Again, for someone who hasn’t worked for a publisher, doesn’t understand it and also who looks at the process they’re going to have to undergo, it’s very easy to see why they would just go, ‘I’ll go with either custom or vanity’, isn’t it?
Nic: The vanity publishers don’t come out and say… they’re very clever with their marketing, they’re very clever with their words. How do you detect one from another?
Euan: They’re never going to say they’re a vanity publisher. The tell-tale sign is essentially ‘authors wanted’. But they don’t even say that.
Euan: The media knows who they are, so remember earlier I talked about the importance of publicity. The media see a certain company’s name and it’s likely just to go in the bin.
Nic: Yeah, the media does but the person who wants, who is going to the company has no idea.
Euan: Good point.
Nic: So, what is the red flag?
Euan: Well, I’d advise people that you can Google vanity presses. The ABC did a great story on one in 2015. If you just put, ‘Vanity presses ABC’ it will all come out and it will explain in detail how they operate. I would look for warnings in reviews of any company that someone is going with or wants to go with. However, that said, any service you Google, there will be good and bad reviews.
Euan: So, you’ve got to really… If you get one bad review or one stunning review, you got to look further. You got to see where the normal distribution of ratings falls, if you like. But if… Keeping that in mind, that it’s a big deal to sell 3,000 copies of the book, I’m going to give you a rough figure of what a printed novel – say about 300 pages, colour cover, all black and white text inside – you should be able to print about 2,000 copies in Australia for about – and again it depends on the size of the book and the paper and all that – but $7,000 for about 2,000 copies of a novel.
Now, there are people who are going to say, ‘Oh, it should be higher, it should be lower’. That’s just a rough figure of saying. But it gives you something to start from. So, if people are trying to talk you into $20,000 packages and they will get you 500 printed copies that will help you give you some perspective on what’s really being offered.
Nic: So then going back to this person out there who wants to start, how do they do it themselves?
Euan: You’ve got put in a lot of time in. Don’t think that you can just do it every other way you can. You’ve really got to put a lot of time into it. I mentioned before just packing the books into boxes is time consuming.
Euan: You got to pitch to the media. Then when you go in to see them, well that’s going to knock…
Nic: Now let’s get back to the beginning of the process. Forget them all.
Euan: Oh, you’re talking about the marketing time.
Nic: Right back to the very beginning. Go back to the very beginning. What do I do with this manuscript? Where do I go? What do I do? How do I start?
Euan: Okay, all right. I would start by pitching to the publishers in the small press network.
Nic: You’ve been rejected. You’re going to go down the self-publishing route, what do I do with this manuscript?
Euan: If you’re not computer confident, I would probably go to bookbaby.com, an American independent aggregator of ebooks and now print-on-demand books. That would be probably my first option. But there are plenty more beyond that, but that would be a benchmark to start from. Actually, I wouldn’t have said that three years ago, but they’ve got better and better and even in the last 12 months the cost of their print-on-demand books, which has…
Nic: Can you explain what print-on-demand is for people out there?
Euan: Yeah. It’s a very limited print run. In theory, a book is only printed when it’s ordered. So, one copy at a time. Going back to the year 2000, that was not economically viable. Really since 2011 it’s common place.
But you can do what a friend of mine in Melbourne did, she got 200 copies printed up, print-on-demand. She did an ebook version of her book and she put it up at Kindle direct publishing and started selling it and she had 200 copies. I hear that she was selling from a website. She was essentially in business because she had been rejected, her book had been rejected by publishers and literary agents in Australia and the US.
However, once she put them out there in ebook form and she was selling the print-on-demand copies, she put excerpts of her book online. Now, her book was a travel memoir. Her and her boyfriend sailed from Los Angeles to Melbourne. There were people on these travel forums online who said, ‘Actually, this is pretty well done’. Now, her names is Torre DeRoche and independently, Hyperion Voice in America and Summersdale in the UK requested a hard copy, a print copy. So, she got one of those print-on-demand copies each and send it to them. She wasn’t quite sure, should I be doing this? They’ve both signed it. Then Penguin bought the Australian New Zealand rights at option and Seismic Pictures in Hollywood option, the screen right. That was in 2011.
Torre was amazing. She didn’t need much help beyond me and her just having a bit of a chat, her and I… Just thinking of my grammar there. Her and I having a bit of a chat and she did it wonderfully. When she was signed, she had to take her self-published version down. The name of it was Swept, with a subtitle, Love with a Chance of Drowning. Now, it was re-released in 2013, for all those publishers I mentioned as Love with a Chance of Drowning.
What Torre had done in 2011, was when she first put it out, she had completely understood the new social media and environment and getting online and discussing. She helped me understand how things had gone beyond the traditional publicity model of pitching to the media…
Euan: … doing an interview on radio or TV or getting a review on the press and getting it out there online. That’s an essential part of answering your question. When people are thinking about pitching their… Sorry. Putting their script together if they’ve finished pitching it, they’ve got to think about building their platform online, their presence, because there are a lot of other ways to sell an ebook too.
Nic: We’re back to marketing, which is still three steps ahead of where I want to be. It’s obviously extraordinary important. These companies you’re talking about that will take your manuscript, what do they actually do? What do they do with it and then how much do they help you? Do they edit it? Do they lay it out? Do you have to do that? All those sorts of things.
Euan: You can chose or you can just buy a lump package and say, ‘Do all this for me’. You send them a Microsoft Word file and they can send you back however many print copies you want, and put your ebook… turn your manuscript into an ebook and send it out to Kindle, and Apple, and Barnes and Noble and Google Play. Then pay you a royalty, the net of the proceeds and you can concentrate on the publicity online.
Nic: So, if you’ve got some money and it will cost and you can do crowd funding type of things, however you get to do it, it’s a very simple process. If you’ve got a manuscript with a bit of money you can get these organisations for a reasonably cheap cost to get it all there for you, yeah?
Euan: You can, or you can do it yourself. That’s what I did with… I went to Kindle Direct publishing, which Amazon owns Kindle and that’s two thirds of the world’s ebook market. So, you can just put them up there for nothing. You’ve got to know how to format your Microsoft Word files that displays neatly. I commissioned a graphic designer to put a cover together. A lot of authors attempt to put their own cover on/or commission a $5 cover through Fiverr.com, but I expect about US $300 for a good cover.
But if you have that Word file, format it correctly, a cover file, that’s all you need. Those two files, and you can upload it yourself with no setup fees or registration fees with Kindle Direct publishing. Publish it to the world. But that itself will hardly sell you any books unless you have a marketing plan.
Nic: Sure. We’ll get to that in a second. Learning all these things about formatting and stuff like that. This is all covered in your latest book?
Euan: Yeah, in Your Book Publishing Options.
Nic: In Your Book Publishing Options. You take them through step by step guide as to how to do all of those things.
Euan: Yeah. I’ve broken it down into nine stages, and steps in each stage. Having said that though, it will show you how to do it for nothing. But a lot of people who think, ‘Well, look, I could invest that time in doing it all myself or I could hire an aggregator to do it for me so I can get back to my writing’.
There’s a trade off, but it is terrific if you have a short story. If you’ve got a way of putting… getting a cover together, maybe know someone who is a graphic designer, put a short story up in Kindle for nothing and see what happens and have an idea, ‘Wow, you can just do that directly’.
I’ve emphasised Kindle, its next biggest competitor is Apple. It’s harder to directly self-publish with them. You can, I’m not saying you can’t. It’s harder. I would go through Smashwords.com, which is a US based distributor and retailer. It’s easier to get into Apple and Kobo all through this one point.
Nic: Now let’s get to the importance of marketing and understanding the different social media platforms and what have you. As you said, one of the great things about the environment today is that anyone can do it, but that’s also one of the great problems of it, that anyone can do it. There’s just millions of books out there, self-published put out there, people just, they only throw on a cover on, it’s out there.
How do you get through the noise? How do you get heard? Because it’s a lot walking in, it’s the equivalent of walking in, if you like, to a huge bookstore and every book has got exactly the same cover and just a name of there. That’s what you’re dealing with. How do you get yours picked out?
Euan: As you were saying above the noise I was thinking of the, just crickets in the background. You’ve got this book up there online and no one is interested in it at all.
Nic: Absolutely, of course.
Euan: I hope that comes across clearly in this interview of saying, ‘Look, you can be in that position. You can get your book out there. You put years of work. You stick it out there and no one takes any notice, because it’s a market place crowded with millions of offerings. So, you need to think very carefully about a marketing plan. That does not mean spam your friends on Facebook and Twitter, no.
I would say just, there are… I can run through a number of options but I would try to put them with a goal of getting them on bookbub.com and that’s the word book with B U B at the end, bookbub, it’s one word. That is an ebook marketing service based in America and the idea is that they had millions of subscribers who want to know about free and discounted ebooks.
Now, I subscribed to bookbub because when some of my favourite authors ebook novels are on special, I want to know because I can then get them for $3.99 instead of $12.99. There are no shortage of subscribers on bookbub.
If you are selected for bookbub, and there are a number of criteria you’ve got to meet, then you can put your book at a discount through bookbub and you will probably sell thousands of ebooks. But it is very selective. People have to go through this process may not be selected.
For which I’d also mention is thefussylibrarian.com and bookgorilla.com, two other options. That’s where I’d be headed for in terms of marketing. I just realised I said be headed for. That’s where I would be heading for in terms of marketing.
But on the way, you can do things such as build your platform with blog and interacting with readers and getting your work known. I’m just thinking Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a blog. That may not be your taste as a book but the writer started out doing it as a bit of fan fiction I think and then expanded into a blog.
Now, when her work was first published, it was through a specialised digital publisher, The Writer’s Coffee Shop, then added print-on-demand copies and then the major buy out came. That’s essentially the dream.
When you’re starting out, you need to engage with readers. If you’re not going to do a blog, you don’t have to. Then review other people’s books in your genre and start getting a network of contacts. So, when you’ve got your manuscript ready, you can put out what used to be uncorrected proofs or advanced reader copies to your network. And on certain subjects, if someone asked me to review a book in an area I’m interested in, I’ll do it for nothing. You start getting that feedback that can get the ball rolling. You might get a few quotes. Then you might consider – now, I’ll list these terms because they’re a bit long to explain, but if you Google terms like – ‘cover reveal’, ‘book blitz’, ‘virtual book tour’ and you’ll go, ‘Wow, a whole new world of ebook marketing opens up’. Just Google those terms.
That’s before you go to Bookbub or the other ones I’ve mentioned. You will find that if you’re not aware of those services and you’re just picking your book out online, well, the herd is stampeding over the top of you.
One more I should mention, it’s been popular with indie authors lately is NetGalley. It’s a paid review service. NetGalley is one word, Google it. You pay for reviews in the hope that those reviews will generate sales. I wouldn’t do that until after you’ve released your book and got a few reviews up on Kindle or wherever it’s selling, because when you are putting your book out there through a service like NetGalley, you’re competing against established authors and publishers.
Nic: We’re talking here about ebooks. Now, I’ve never read an ebook, I’m not interested in reading ebooks, I only read… I have once tried to read Crime and Punishment on my phone on the train, didn’t love the experience. There’s a lot of people like me. Print, on-demand printing is that still an option, and then how do you get distributed, how do you get attention away from the ebook world?
Euan: I agree. I’ve probably read about 50-50 print and ebooks.
Nic: I thought you were going to say Fifty Shades of Grey when you said fifty.
Euan: Print is a long… Print still forms most of the book market.
Nic: Absolutely, 75% plus.
Euan: Yeah. With print-on-demand you can… there is one major print-on-demand company in the world that offers sale or return to bookstores and that’s Ingram, I N G R A M. It has two brands if you like. One is Lighting Source, which publishes tend to use. The other is a more recent addition, IngramSpark, and that is more for self or indie publishers. So, either one.
But if you go through Blurb.com, B L U R B, or Lulu.com or createspace.com, there is no sale or return to your bricks and mortar bookstore in the street. Bricks and mortar bookstores do not want books that are not on sale or return. Just simply meaning they don’t sell like and return them to the publisher and get their money back.
Ingram do offer that. It is still very hard to sell a print-on-demand book through a bricks and mortar bookstore but it can be done. If you do do that, you would expect the books to be printed… I have two different accounts of Ingram, one Lightning Source, one IngramSpark. I expect about a week for them to be printed, but I have to pay a registration fee and a proof fee. The advantage of Lulu, Blurb and even CreateSpace, which is run by Amazon, there are no setup fees. If you had to put a press quality PDF together and upload it, well you can send it to them, upload to them.
Nic: As a PDF?
Euan: Yeah. PDF for the cover and a PDF for the text, and they will send you back copies. Look, a company like Blurb has terrific online tools that even if you don’t know how to do a PDF you can use their tools to put books together. A lot of people know about the photo books that Blurb makes it really easy to put together.
Nic: Right, and do you recommend to people that they do both ebooks and print-on-demand, or does it depend on what they’re writing and who their audience is? Is it one or the other or?
Euan: I’d recommend both actually, because it’s great having an ebook up there and it’s very cheap to do and that’s all great, but it is nothing like having a printed copy of your book. Yeah, it is a little bit extra getting out those printed copies, but perhaps it’s my experience of in the old days, going back to even 10 years ago, if you were doing a print run you really had to look at a minimum 1,000 copies before it was economically viable.
Nic: Sure, absolutely.
Euan: The fact that you can actually print out one copy of a book, it will be under $10 to do.
Nic: Yes, remarkable.
Euan: So really a few print-on-demand copies I would highly recommend. But don’t expect that bricks and mortar bookstores will be rushing to do it. If you want to go to that next level and pitch a book to the traditional media and go through the bookstores, that’s when it’s a really good idea to have a distributor, which I referred to earlier. A dedicated company with a warehouse and human beings that go into stores on a monthly basis to offer books and they handle the distribution to the bookstores. Nic: And again, similar to the vanity and custom publishing, there’s a lot out there, they promise a lot. But if they’re dealing, if they’re acting on behalf of thousands of self-publishers, then how much attention are they really giving to your books when they go and try and promote them? I think they would have to be very careful there.
Nic: They do. So, a very good point. You have to drive that as a self-publisher and not expect them to do it for you. Look, to be honest, the first time I was with a distributor and I flew up to Sydney to do an interview on Triple J and I went to meet the Sydney distributor who was associated with the distributor, the one in Melbourne that I was contracted to had associates all around Australia.
And look, it was going on with Sarah MacDonald on Triple J, and we had a ball on air but before I went on, and I went to meet the distributor. He said, ‘Well, make sure you get plenty of publicity to get these books turning over. We don’t want them sitting on the shelves for too long or they’ll start coming back’. It’s really up to you, if you’re going down the indie route, to make sure you promote them.
Nic: What are three most common mistakes that people make when embarking on the indie publishing… I hate the word journey.
Euan: Yeah, well that’s good.
Nic: On Indie publishing.
Euan: Journey, venture. Poor editing, poor covers and no marketing plan.
So, starting with poor editing. When you find the professional editing as upwards of $50 an hour, it’s easy to say, ‘Well editing can I just, my proof reading is good enough or a friend’. But you really need to get a professional. Google the Institute of Professional Editors, a whole new world will open up and they have editors in every state and I think territory in Australia. You can find professional editors through the Institute of Professional Editors.
Don’t be surprised when the write per hour is $50 plus, some charge $80, sometimes more. But you can sort that out. They have the editors who are available and what they’ve done before. There are other editing services such as part of a package but if it’s only going to be $500 worth of editing, that’s probably not much more than a spell check.
Euan: You don’t want to end up with a mistake that is embarrassing in the book and it might not be picked up properly unless a human being actually reads it.
The poor covers again…
Nic: Why is that so important?
Euan: Well graphic… It can’t just look okay. It’s got to look great. If you go and look in an airport bookstore where it’s probably the most competitive point of selling books because the… It’s quite hard to get in an airport bookstore.
Euan: A lot of people, I think the first reaction will be, ‘Oh, what is there to a cover? That just looks pretty simple’. Then when you’re trying to do it yourself you suddenly find, ‘Oh, it ain’t that simple, is it?’ It’s a real art, because it needs to be simple and clear, usually the focus. But it is just so beautifully presented. There’s a lot of people who do kind of good covers but they’re not really professional and they let themselves down at that first hurdle. People don’t want to pick up the book and see what’s inside.
Nic: Is the cover important if you’re only doing ebook publishing?
Euan: Yeah, very.
Nic: So why is it important then? It’s for the same reason.
Euan: It’s the first caption of the book. If it’s just a, there’s some Times New Roman font on the cover and it looks like they’ve got a photo off their iPhone, it might be great to have their iPhone and… But yeah, it’s that first impression of professionalism.
To begin with, I know people who have done the $5 book cover deal and they think it’s great. But I know one indie author publisher I work with, he did that and he got a cover. He thought, ‘Oh, it was really good’. He showed it to me by website, so you can really get good covers off Fiverr.com?
But he didn’t get the difference between a good and a great cover. He got his book picked up by a traditional publisher. They got rid of the original self-published cover and put on their own cover and then he came back a bit sheepishly and he said, ‘Oh, I see what you mean. This cover is great’.
It can be hard to get beyond the fact that you’re in love with the price, it’s only $5 as opposed to… What will a person looking at it on the street think of it? Just a first impression. Of course you’re not getting any second chances at that.
Nic: You get what you paid for. The third thing was a good marketing plan, which people just embark on it and put it up there and hope for the best.
Euan: Yeah and we’ve covered a lot of the tips of the marketing tips.
Nic: We’ve covered a lot of it.
Euan: But perhaps we didn’t cover why people do it because I can tell you when you have finished getting your book together, it’s so exciting. It has been compared to recovering from a long, long illness. You’re so keen to share it with… you just stick it up there and spam your friends on Facebook and Twitter, ‘Oh, it’s all ready’. There’s so much excitement when you’re done. You got to be really cool headed about it and be strategic and get your marketing plan set up.
It is very understandable – but it has to be very clear if you pay for someone to put an ebook together for you or if you do it yourself and/or with print-on-demand – don’t just think it’s going to sell itself off the shelf. It’s very naïve. You’ve got to go out there and promote it.
You might be smart like Torre DeRoche and get it on a forum that’s appropriate to your genre of book. If you learn science fiction, get into those genres, get online those discussion groups, through Facebook or LinkedIn or however you do it, get like-minded people interested and you’ll get the word of mouth, or click of mouth, I should say going.
Nic: I know there’s a… You can now get, there’s a whole lot of people to provide, you can hire for marketing and the PR advice who work within this industry, is it worth spending the money, come up with the $2,000, $3,000 bucks it may cost to get someone who will take that on for you? Is there?
Euan: I’m going to say often yes it is. They have a great list of contacts and that’s what you’re paying for. I mentioned that Triple J interview I did a while back. I paid a publicist to do that for me and she did a great job. I approached her because I found out who was doing the publicity for a number of events that were advised in Triple J or talked about in Triple J.
I thought, I’ll approach her, and she was absolutely terrific and helped understand what a media kit is and how to pitch it. I’ve been on air with John Faine but I didn’t quite get the whole game. She was terrific.
However, you also hear stories, ‘Oh, I paid out a few grand and the publicist didn’t do much for me’. But I also tend to think, well you can’t just completely delegate. You’ve got to get out there and talk to people and drive it.
Euan: The more you do the more likely you are to have a bit of luck and get a bit of publicity.
Nic: Cool. Any final tips of advice for people out there that we…?
Euan: Well I think what I hope I’ve left people with – writers with a sense of if they’ve listened all the way through this podcast to the end – that this is all about giving you a choice because what I’ve said in places might make you think, ‘Oh gee, does editing cost that much? Is it really hard to get a good cover and to do marketing plans sounds like a lot of work?’ I’m trying to forewarn you and to fore arm you that don’t go into it blinked.
Know that it is a lot of work but if you succeed and sell, my god it’s a great feeling in doing it.
But even before you get to that step or that stage, when you’re writing your book – and I’ve written a few books now, not a lot but a few – and you can get about half by throwing just getting a real slide show, ‘Oh my god, is anyone ever going to read this? Is it really worth going on?’
Well remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel regardless of what the literary gatekeepers – the traditional publishers – say they do or don’t like. Whether it’s a niche book or a mainstream book, it can see the light of day if you want it to, and that can be enough to keep you motivated, to keep you going, to put those next words on the page and get there and finish it.
So, I hope it gives listeners a sense of empowerment, if I can use that term, giving them a choices and not being at the mercy of the traditional literary gatekeepers.
Nic: Alright. Well, I’m sure you’ve given them a lot of advice, a lot of help tips for a lot of people out there. Thank you for your time and for your wisdom today Euan.
Euan: My pleasure Nic, thank you very much for having me on The Garret.