The God of Amazonia

“Amazon are undoubtedly the most important player in the book world today. Whether print books or e-books. They really are the central platform around which the whole publishing industry is operating these days. Publishers think about Jeff Bezos kind of like how they might think about God – as a very distant, inaccessible figure who is all powerful and all knowing.”

That was Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director at Profile Books, being interviewed on “Amazon’s Retail Revolution“, part of the Business Boomers series, which aired last night (21st April) on BBC Two in the UK and quoted in The Bookseller.

A key statistic that the documentary highlighted: More than half of Britain’s online retail spend goes to Amazon, working out at £70 for every man, woman and child in the country.

I am nearly finished reading (okay, listening to) The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon  and, though author Brad Stone doesn’t paint Bezos as a Mr Nice Guy, he does reflect a brilliant one. Eminently unlikable much of the time, by the sound of things, and prone to nasty outbursts known as “nutters”, but certainly not one whose success has fallen into his lap. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

The book “shows Bezos to be a sponge for information, and a fearless inquisitor, approaching even seasoned competitors to soak up knowledge from them, explains Adam Lashinsky in his CCN Money article ‘The Uncomfortable Truth about Brad Stone’s Amazon Book’, adding as an aside that “This is one of the many qualities Bezos shares with Jobs, and reading this book is another opportunity to lament that Jobs isn’t still around so that we could watch these two gladiators go after each other.”

All of this and more – especially as I am labouring to help establish a new startup in the book world – is why Jeff Bezos is on my #unlikeablementors list. “If you aren’t up to speed on the Bezos playbook, then you aren’t current with what it takes to start or run or a business,” as Lashinsky puts it.

Some reflections on experiences of my publishing journey as a first-time author

By Derek Botha

[Note: Derek is a client of Moonshine Media. Hearing him enthuse about the journey of publishing his first book, I asked him to note his thoughts down. After all, he will never publish a first book again, but it’s a path many others might stumble or skip down. – Dominique]

No Labels coverSome years ago, after having retired for a short while, I immersed myself in research on an issue that had been a big part of my life’s experiences. The research activities eventually formed the bases of considerations of becoming some form of larger publication as the writings were becoming too long and complex to be presented in a journal article.

I was not sure how the writings would reach the public domain, but, as time went on, I decided that I would publish them as a book. This decision meant restructuring and reformatting the work into chapters, and rewriting a substantial portion of the work that had already been drafted. A coherent story-line was also necessary, although a work of non-fiction.  It was my main aim to get what I had written ‘out there’ – to be available to be read by those who may be interested.  It was not my intention to publish for financial gain – I felt that what I had to say had not been said at all, that I needed to say it, and that it was important information.  In other words, I wanted my story to be available to be read as it would be of value to my readership.

 I was proud of my efforts at research and writing on a topic in a field in which I had trained and worked – mental health. As the topic had been significantly ignored, dishonoured, dismissed and neglected, it was my belief that my writings would make an important contribution to this aspect in the mental health field. At that stage I had spent just over five years involved in intense researching, writing and publishing a few related academic articles. As the writing of a draft manuscript was drawing to a close, I mulled over these aspects. I was under the impression (as a first-time author), that all I needed to do was to ‘phone a publishing house or two, advise them of the focus and content of my writings, and they would be enthusiastic to publish my writings which I considered were of merit. I eventually decided to contact a large national publisher, as well as reputable international publishers who published works in the mental health field, and email to them my book proposal. This process was met with varied responses – from no replies, to indicating that the nature of my book did not form part of their publishing plans for that year. The large national publisher attempted to find overseas publishers because local publication alone was seen to be not financially viable.  All such efforts were not successful as the book was not the equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey in the non-fiction field, that is, it would not add significant and immediate value to the financial wealth of a publication house. I was getting quite despondent, and was concerned about whether or not my committed efforts would ever be published.

The national publisher suggested that I consider following the self-publishing route by ‘putting’ the book on Amazon.com. I had no idea what self-publishing meant, nor entailed, so I looked it up on the internet and found numerous overseas (USA and UK) places (institutions, companies, persons, etc.) who were offering a multitude of publishing related menu-like services for prices that, for a South African, were extremely high. In addition, I did not feel comfortable making payments upfront, given the geographic distances, and the fact that browsing the internet had indicated that some of these overseas ‘publishers’ were being investigated by USA police authorities for various criminal activities, such as  money laundering. I felt that I could not allow my works, my writings, my creation to be exposed to such institutions. I had a sense that I would be offering my creation to untrustworthy and possible criminal elements who would have little or no appreciation of the intrinsic value of my efforts, commitment and writings. In addition, if I had to submit my creation to remote, far-away, unknown persons and processes, I would be not be an integral part of the activities of preparing my writings for presentation to potential readership.

Consequently I started browsing the internet to find a source of assistance in South Africa, and ‘phoning persons in South Africa whom I thought could help me. I had researched and written all the work to date and wanted assistance with the publishing, marketing, distribution and sales of my book. I did not want to merely hand over to another all that I had done, and then be removed from my writings so that another would be responsible for creating yet another book in a string of their publications. In other words, I had conceived the idea, had undertaken all the research and the writing, and now wanted to be an integral part of the processes that were needed to bring about the ‘birth’ of my creation.

After some weeks of ‘phoning around and browsing the internet, another first-time author suggested that I contact a small publishing organisation called Moonshine Media. I did so, and then consulted with the owner of this organisation, Dominique le Roux.  She undertook to manage the publication process, during which she would commission reputable local service providers for each specific activity in the process, and I would still be involved with such matters as various decisions, working on amendments to the script, and so on. I was satisfied that her organisation could offer me what I wanted and needed. And so I apprehensively began my journey into the unknown – but a journey that I looked forward to and undertook with excitement and enthusiasm as I was to be an integral part of the processes, and would be involved with all the activities that then followed.

Part of the requirements of my previous employment involved research, writing and publishing articles in scholarly journals.  As I had been exposed to editing processes that came with that activity, I thought that that rather limited process would be repeated, but over a longer period. In spite of my excitement and enthusiasm, I was not prepared for the level of commitment and amount of work that was needed from me in this new venture.  Fortunately I had retired and had much of the day as discretionary time to attend to my responses to the copy editor. However, the committed, thorough and professional copy editing undertaken by the copy editor resulted in all this discretionary time, and substantially more, been used to keep up with her suggestions and questions. This process continued every day for about a month, and involved the exchange of over seven hundred emails between the copy editor and me – it was exhausting. However, I felt totally included and that I was being held partially responsible for preparing the writings for publication.  I would not have been satisfied with any lesser commitment and involvement in the editing process.

I was then consulted in regard to the cover design and it’s colour. Again I felt included in this process and experienced the ways of thinking and working of these professionals.

The time-consuming and highly focused activity of type-setting was undertaken by Dominique and an assistant.  I was again consulted during this process, and was amazed at the care, thoroughness and preciseness that was needed to accomplish this task successfully.

I had some thoughts on how the indexing task might be undertaken, although I did not know exactly what was required. I was aware that it could be a time-consuming process, involving a lot of thorough work with minute accuracy. In a short time I was presented with a very comprehensive, appropriate and easily accessible index, as well as supportive comments from the well-renowned indexer who was commissioned by Moonshine Media.

At that stage I thought that all the preparation for the book had been completed, and it was in a state to be presented to a printer. However, I was informed that proofreading was still required. I was not sure what to expect, but was again a party to the proofreading activities. This allowed me to experience the final responses from a professional who had not been involved with any stages of the preparation of the book so far. The high level of professionalism to which I was exposed by the proof-reading process really brought home to me the amount of commitment and thoroughness that is required to prepare the final draft of a book.  Again, I was required to respond to a ‘barrage’ of questions and suggestions. I found it very rewarding to feel that an  ‘outsider’ could be so committed to working with my writings in such a professional way – and again bring me into the process of preparing my book for publication.

My book was eventually e-published in about six months from the time of the first consultation with Dominique when she indicated an interest in the book, and a willingness to undertake the management of its publication, both in South Africa (hard copy) and on the internet (Amazon.com).

My involvement in every activity of publication made me feel that I was part of the whole process, and that my work and writing was being honoured by all those who assisted and contributed to its publication.

– Derek Botha, author of No Labels – Men in Relationship with Anorexia

Pride – Confessions of a Publishing Aid in Africa

Warning: gushings ahead.

Sorry, I can’t help myself. After how many years in the business, I still just love, love, love that moment when you unwrap that single proof copy of a new book from the printer, and feel the weight of it in your hand, and you page carefully through it, possibly remembering to breathe…

Today another book was born. That book is called ‘Shame – Confessions of an Aid Worker in Africa’, written by Jillian Reilly. Authored and funded by Jillian, it was produced by a specialist team of experienced professionals all passionate about what they do, and obsessed with creating great products of high quality.

THAT is what independent publishing is.

Yes, we are using the tools of self-publishing to get this book to the international market – in this case, Lulu for print on demand, and KDP for producing the Kindle edition. But those are just print and distribution service providers. The actual work in producing the book – the editing, design, typesetting – was not done on the cheap, and no corners were cut. [Full disclosure, in case this hasn’t been abundantly clear already: my small company, Moonshine Media, helped Jillian with the strategy and production management.]

I am so proud of Shame.

Help! I’ve got a book in me

About time too…

I’ve been planning to do this talk and series of workshops for a while now. Wanted to have it perfect before I started, but there’s been so much demand, I’ve finally just jumped in. Here’s the info we sent out in the weekly newsletter for the local indie bookstore, Kalk Bay Books:

Do you have a special story or gift of knowledge to share?

Perhaps you’ve been somewhere amazing or done something incredible…
Perhaps your life has brought you experiences from which others can learn…
Maybe your wild imagination has conjured a fantasy that would entertain and delight…

You might have written it all down already, or perhaps you’re still wondering whether it’s even worth it.

What to do next?
How do you send your manuscript or idea to a publisher? (And, if so, which one?)
What can you expect from them?
What are your self-publishing options?
What’s this business of independent publishing?

Actually, hang on… what’s the business of this whole thing altogether? Is there money? What’s in it for whom?

You have questions. Dominique le Roux and Ann Donald have answers and suggestions.

Join us for an evening of publishing talk in which we’ll map out your options for you as a South African author-to-be.

You’ll leave knowing:
• The pros and cons of traditional vs independent publishing
• How to pitch your book to a publisher
• How to create and sell an ebook (and where Apple, Amazon and Kindle fit into the whole story)
• What really sells
• How others like you have done it.

Dominique le Roux was previously a publishing manager at Struik, and now runs Moonshine Media(www.moonshinemedia.co.za), a consultancy that specialises in helping others tell their stories. (And sell them, of course.)

Ann Donald is a former journalist and magazine editor, and is now the proprietor of Kalk Bay Books, with knowledge to share on which books sell, how to sell them, and who to sell them to.

If this sounds like information you could use, then make sure you don’t miss the opportunity…

[Update: The response was overwhelming and we were almost immediately oversubscribed. Plenty more of these to come. And I had a lot of fun doing it.]

Thinking, um ‘out the box’?

First there was the alternative approach to the print publication. And then a really neat (or not!) way of taking that to the electronic form without losing the essence. Great work, Visual Editions!

Check out the videos by John Pavlus of Fast Co Design: Composition No.1: An iPad Art Book You Read On “Shuffle”

Partnership in Publishing

“In essence, that’s what we all are, I think, publishers, authors, and booksellers: partners in the quest to find and engage readers. It’s a difficult task, but as long as I keep the attitude that we’re in it together, it’s easier to deal with the vicissitudes of being an author,” writes accomplished author Lisa Tucker in her Publishing Perspectives blog post about the arc of a writer’s career.

“Recognizing that you’re part of a business doesn’t mean you’re a sell-out or anti-art.” Thank you, Lisa. That sums it up well. Whenever a potential author comes to me for advice, I first ask them about their motives in publishing. And they almost NEVER say “I want to make money.” No, they all have valuable stories to tell and wisdoms to impart. But I know that later, suddenly there will be a lot of finger pointing about others in the publishing, printing, sales, marketing and distribution processes who are making too much money or not pulling their weight. I try to give authors an understanding of the business, end to end, and the role they can play in helping this long list of co-workers on their project.

I think we all need to have compassion for our partners in the value chain. Let’s face it: the margins are miniscule. For everybody. Very few are making it rich. All could have, in all likelihood, done better in a different business. Publishing is a labour of love in so many ways.

And she quotes Wordsworth aptly: “What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how.”

‘Go the F— to Sleep’: The Case of the Viral PDF

I just absolutely love this story. Here is a book that is only due to be published in mid June, the publisher admits to having done absolutely nothing to promote it, and yet it is already at the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists.
How, you ask?
Piracy!

Read the story here: Go the F— to Sleep’: The Case of the Viral PDF – The Bay Citizen.

How Google’s New eBookstore Might Save Indie Booksellers | Fast Company

Lots of people have been asking me about the ‘safety’ of epublishing – how do you prevent people ‘stealing’ your stuff? Of course, with your books stored in a cloud like this, it’s so much easier for a whole group of people to share that one account. But then we just need to remember the book clubs of the bricks and mortar world. Publishers and booksellers now woo book clubs – even though each book gets shared by the whole club, these buyers end up with more spend.

As Cory Doctorow points out (crediting Tim O’Reilly), it’s not ‘piracy’ but ‘obscurity’ that publishers and writers should fear. ‘Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy.’

Seth Godin ditches mainstream publishing. Why you might also want to.

“The business race is on to have the relationship with the reader,” says Seth Godin, explaining why he’s ditching his traditional publisher and moving to print-on-demand (POD).

Also quoted by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the article in the Wall Street Journal was Mark Coker, chief executive of Smashwords Inc., an e-book publishing and distribution platform based in Los Gatos, California: “It’s going to make a lot of other big authors sit up and take notice,” he said. “There are a lot of authors with fan followings.”

Trachtenberg’s summary, paraphrasing Coker, is one with which I heartily agree: “As e-books account for an ever-larger percentage of total units sold, the distribution advantage of having new titles in bricks-and-mortar bookstores will have to be weighed against the potential financial advantage of retaining ownership of a new book and distributing it as an e-book or on a print-on-demand basis. Midlist authors—those who are successful but not best sellers—who receive minimal marketing support from their publishers may be tempted to follow Mr. Godin’s lead.”