Thursday, September 2, 2010

Notes from Stackpole's "Writing in the Post-Paper Era"

Michael Salsbury
At Gen Con 2010, I attended one of author Michael A. Stackpole's seminars entitled "Writing Success in the Post-Paper Era". The seminar description mentions that Stackpole was "the first author to offer fiction on the iPhone/iPod Touch through Apple's App Store" and that he would give attendees "an up to date look at the digital revolution and explain how you can profit and develop your career". He definitely delivered on that. Below are my notes:

  • For every hardcopy book sold, two are printed.

  • The economics of publishing are such that if 25% of the copies of a book sold are digital, publishers will drop the paper version.

  • If you intend to make a living writing, you need a professional web site, a Facebook presence, and a Twitter feed. All of these will help get your name out there and draw people to your work.

  • If you do a blog, everything you write, tweet, or post on Facebook should be entertaining. It should also be positive, and professional. All of these things become part of your image, and you want to present the image of an entertaining professional with a pleasant personality. If you come across as a moody jerk, a loser, or a person who sulks over all their rejection slips, that's not going to help your reputation.

  • You should be able to generate 500 words on pretty much any topic and make it entertaining. If you can't, you probably shouldn't be looking at writing as a career.

  • A good, professional WordPress design will cost you $150-200. You should consider that an investment in your future, and not go with one of the free, cookie-cutter themes on the web. (Like the one I'm using here, I guess...)

  • Buy domain names for yourself, your main character names, and book titles. That will make it easier for people to find your site and your work.

  • Mr. Stackpole uses Zen Cart on his site to handle payments and shopping cart duty.

  • Paypal can provide a good payment option for customers. Make sure you get a merchant account with them, though.

  • Put writing samples on your web site. This will help readers who are new to you decide whether or not to buy your work.

  • Non-technical documents/books priced at over $10 will pretty much not sell as e-books.

  • Pricing recommendations based on his experience: $2 for up to 10,000 words. $3 for 10-40,000 words. $5 for 50,000+ words.

  • He recommends a metric over "word count divided by 10,000" to represent "hours of reading enjoyment" for your work. Price based on that metric and describe your content in that terminology. The term "pages" doesn't really apply in a digitial setting. Even describing in "word count" doesn't work. What you're really selling is the hours of enjoyment someone will get from your work.

  • Consumers tend to be more concerned about the time cost of entertainment than the money cost.

  • We'll start seeing more digital serial stories in the future, similar to TV episodes, that are sold for casual reading sessions and priced as above.

  • The three main formats you should consider publishing your works in: PDF (optional), ePub (works for all devices except Kindle), and Kindle format. Those three formats should cover just about any e-reader your customer might have.

  • Stackpole recommends "Legend Maker" software on the Mac for creating the eBooks.

  • At some point there is probably going to be a "big collapse" of traditional publishing. Until then you have no reason not to submit your work to traditional publishers.

  • Physical books will drive readers to your web site. That's good. You get money from your web site faster. Publishers tend to pay 6-9 months after the sale of the book. Payment tends to be around $1.35 from the sale of a $10 paperback. Sell a $2 short story through your web site, and you'll pocket around $1.67... so digital publishing is a better deal for the author. More money, sooner.

  • As far as editing and proofing services, for a short story, it's sufficient to have another writer look it over. For a novel, hire a freelance editor.

  • A good strategy for offering samples on your site: Put up installments of a serial story free. Take them down after a week or two. Put up the next installment. Near the end, offer a digitial omnibus collection of the entire series, including the as-yet-unpublished installments. People will buy them to get the parts they're missing and read the parts not available yet.

  • In the digital age, there are no "established authors" anymore. You are as established as your web store.

Mr. Stackpole offers a "Digital Career Guide" for $30 through his web store that offers more detail, recommendations, and information. I purchased a copy at Gen Con but haven't read it yet. I hope to publish a review when I do.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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