Authors: Should You Create a Website or a Mobile App?

I need to start this post with a confession. I build author websites, not apps. So I’m a bit biased in writing this post. That said, I’m going to do my best to give you an honest opinion on this issue, with quotes from others in the field who know more than I do about apps.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s start by defining both websites and apps. Most of you use both of these on a regular basis, but may not be totally clear on the differences. For example, you might read news on the NY Times website or you might get highlights on the top stories from the NY Times app. In cases like this one, they’re almost one in the same.

The Differences
But when it comes to authors, there are distinct differences between the two. And it’s important that you understand these before deciding what you’re going to spend your money on.

The first — and most important — difference to understand is that websites are used for browsing, and an app is a bit more of a commitment. For example, when you’re looking for a good restaurant in the area, you may use your favorite restaurant app. You would then click on the links to some local restaurants that you’ve never tried and “browse” those restaurants’ websites. Let’s say you then pick a restaurant for the evening and absolutely love it. You may decide later on that you want to download that restaurant’s app, through which you can regularly browse the menu, order meals for pick-up, etc…

See what I mean? A website is something that you “visit.” An app is something that you use regularly.

When a LinkedIn member recently started a conversation about whether or not authors should create apps, there were a few interesting responses. The one that I found most helpful was from Kristen McLean, Founder & CEO at Bookigee, Inc.

She said, “Apps are costly, and will generally not return their cost unless you have a good way to promote them, or you make it so awesome that it will spread virally. I have yet to see an app related to a specific book that has performed this way. So, I guess this is a long winded way of saying ‘No, I don’t think so.'”

So does this mean that an app is a bad decision for all authors? That they should all build websites instead?

I would venture to say that’s pretty much the case for 95% of all authors today. After all, what’s the purpose of your author website? Chances are, it’s to sell books. And most people who visit your site probably are first-timers. The purpose of your site should be to entice readers to stay, to read an excerpt, and to buy the book. You’re probably a long way from having a list of loyal readers who will be willing to download your app — be it free or for a minimal cost.

The Exceptions
That said, even Kristen says that there are a few exceptions to the website-not-apps rule. For example, if…

1) You’re an app developer yourself, and you can build it with very little cost

2) You’ve got a project that is inherently “transmedia” in that it would benefit from some of the things you can’t do in books but can do in apps. Examples would include adding movies, animations, or game-like interactivity that moves the story forward in unique ways. Examples Kristen gives include Inanimate Alice-http://www.inanimatealice.com and Moonbot’s http://morrislessmore.com/);

3) You are Amanda Havard. http://amandahavard.com/immersedition.Yes, if you’re already a bestselling author, you probably have a whole slew of fans ready to download your app as soon as it’s released. If you’re a self-published author just getting started … not so much.

Now, none of this means that you have to choose between an author website and an app. In an ideal world, you’d have it all: websites, apps, social networking profiles, and e-books in every possible format. But in reality, you have a limited budget and want to use it wisely. In this case, think of an app as something that might be great for you to add down the line, but not a must just yet.

How’s a Writer to Thrive in Today’s Visual World?

Okay, this post is nothing but a vent. It’s a vent from me — a writer and creator of websites for writers — about a social media world that is getting dumbed down.

This is one of the most shared things on the web. Need I say more?

Quick. Take a look at what’s hot on YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest. What’s getting the most “shares” and “likes”? No, it’s not the witty prose that great authors are putting together. Nor is it the interesting commentaries on our society. It’s pictures like the one above. Photos of dogs drinking from a toilet, or of babies with food smeared all over their faces. Now, I love dogs and babies as much as the next guy, but what in the world does it say about our society that this is what people find most appealing?

I’m a writer and reader. I’m a person who loves the written word. Nothing is as exciting to me as reading something that makes me think about things in a new way, or that makes me laugh or cry.

Today’s writers can do everything right when it comes to marketing themselves online. They can write witty tidbits about what’s going on in the news. They can put together beautiful short stories and share them with the world. And yet, their content isn’t going viral.

So why is that? I have a few theories…

1. The dumbing down of America. Seriously. It’s not a joke. People’s attention span nowadays is about that of a gnat. If someone has to read more than five words, it’s not worth their time.

2. The speed of social media. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest is like life in fast forward. You have less than a second to capture someone’s attention. So, of course, a funny picture — which you can absorb in less than two seconds — garners more interest than a well-written article.

3. The move towards a visual world. I’m a very verbally-oriented person. I think in words, not pictures. I enjoy words more than pictures. But I think I’m in the minority … a minority that is only getting smaller by the day. Today’s world is led by the visual image, with even captions being a very minor piece of a puzzle.

So what’s an author to do? How are you supposed to become noticed if you can’t whip up an infographic at will, or take an adorable picture that will go viral? I wish I had an answer to that question. I’m trying to figure it out myself.

Meanwhile, if you’ve made it this far down in the blog post, then you probably are like me and have a longer attention span than most. Do me a favor and “share,” “tweet,” or “like” this post. Give me and all the other writers out there a little hope.

... otherwise, this is the future of communication.

It’s a Book … It’s an E-Book … It’s an App?

When is a book not just a book? Well, today.

You see, a book used to be nothing but print on paper. But then e-books started taking off, and the traditional book became an electronic version of the same. Today, with all of the downloads and apps out there — which have numerous bells and whistles — the book industry is just starting to figure out that it needs to catch up.

According to a recent article on Wired, book publishers are trying to figure out how to make their titles more immersive in this digital world. In other words, they need to take what was once a reading experience and add audio, video and interactive components for their built-for-tablet books.

According to the Wired article, here are some examples of the initial authors and publishers venturing into this realm. Check these out … hopefully they can spark some ideas.

  • Chronicle (a small publishing company) recently released an iPad app for artist Stephan Pastis’ comics series Pearls Before Swine.
  • A few years ago, author Amanda Havard wasn’t able to find a publisher that could bring her book The Survivors to electronic life the way she wanted. So she and her father, L.C. Havard, a former executive for a company that developed technologies for the health insurance industry, formed a company called Chafie Press to publish her books and create digital offerings. The app version of The Survivors, the first in a series of five books, integrates audio files of the music her characters are listening to (some of it produced by Chafie), pictures of the designer clothes they’re wearing, links to the characters’ Twitter accounts (Havard mostly runs them herself) and Google Maps of the places they visit
  • HarperCollins released an app for The Art of the Adventures of Tintin last year; Penguin Books also launched a much-lauded app of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
  • An immersive retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is also being released as an iPad and iPhone app on April 26.

As an author today, you have to do more than just put words on paper. When you start working on your next book, think about it as a three-dimensional experience. Think audio, video, graphics. Consider how readers can interact with the story. If you don’t keep these types of things in mind, you’ll probably fall behind the times.

Happy reading!

How Much Should You Charge for Your E-Book?

The short answer? As little as possible.

We know that you want to make money off of your book. But before you can become a bestselling author, you have to create a little buzz for yourself. The best way to start doing that is to allow people to read your book for dirt cheap. If they love it (as you’re probably pretty confident they will), and the word starts spreading about your book, then you can consider raising the price.

Consider these two separate blurbs that I found on PublishersWeekly.com today…

  • The top of the Kindle romance bestseller list favors the cheap. The top five titles are all $1.99 or less, with three of the five priced at 99 cents. The titles are, in order, Wife by Wednesday by Catherine Bybee, Golden Lies by Barbara Freethy, Daddy’s Home by A.K. Alexander, Not What She Seems by Victorine E. Lieske, and Eye of the Beholder by Emma Jay.
  • The Kindle Daily Deal, which drastically reduces the price on one Kindle book for a 24-hour period, featured on January 24 A Heart of Freedom by Chai Ling, cutting its price from $10.79 to $1.99. The book immediately jumped to the top of the paid Kindle charts, but what’s more interesting is the book’s staying power: as of January 25, the day after the deal with its price back up to $10.79, Ling’s book is still at number four on the chart, showing that the Kindle Daily Deal helps a book for longer than a 24-hour window.

In her blog, Ruth Ann Nordin argues that you should charge what you think your book is worth, which is most cases is more than 99 cents. That’s a valid argument. But then, in the same post, she goes on to say this:

“Now, if you’re cheap like me, you’ll be scouting out freebies and $0.99 deals. This is why I do that with my own books, by the way. I am not willing to spend more than $1.99 on a new author, and if I have to spend that $1.99, then I better really like the plot idea. If I spend any more than that, then I obviously know the author and really like them. 🙂 When it comes to supporting people I care about, I’ll throw in the extra couple of bucks. But most of my time is spent looking at free ebooks. So that is why I price my books at no more than $0.99. Fair is fair, right?”

Look, if you’re an author who is already well-known and well-respected, then charge as much as you think your book is worth (after all, an ebook costs you nothing to “print”). But if you’re an author just starting out — as most of my clients are — then you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by pricing your ebook really, really low. Sure, you might not make as much money up front. But doing so greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll ultimately become one of those authors who can charge $10-$15 for an ebook and still sell a lot of them. Now that’s a profit!

Why You Should Consider an Author Podcast

Remember when blogging was all the rage for authors? Well, it still is an essential (I recommend that all authors blog), but it seems that the latest version of blogging is in the form of audio. They’re podcasts.

According to an article in Publishers Weekly, more and more authors are using podcasts, “as a way to build readership and bring attention to their sites.”

Who’s Doing Them?
There are a bunch of literary sites on the west coast that are doing regular author interviews via podcast. They include Brad Listi’s the Nervous Breakdown, Tom Lutz’s Los Angeles Review of Books, and Tyson Cornell’s company Rare Bird Lit.

Listi believes podcast are a great way for authors to connect directly with readers: “[Authors] are interesting and down to earth, and this is what I want to bring to our listeners.”

Authors can also do podcasts themselves. There are numerous authors who have used podcasts to replace their blog.

Who Listens to Them?
“One of the most obvious markets for them is the commuter market, whether it’s people riding on subways or driving in their cars,” Lutz tells PW. Lutz goes on to add that in his best month, his podcasts received over 100,000 hits. So people are definitely listening.

What Should You Talk About on a Podcast?
Sure, you should mention your book. But try to avoid having that be the bread and butter of the interview. “I see the book as the product and the author as the brand, and podcasts are an ideal way to build that brand,” says Cornell.

In other words, use a podcast to talk about yourself, your career, the humor that you find in everyday life, etc…

How Do They Help Authors?
Much like author websites themselves, podcasts “humanize the authors,” says Listi. Rare Bird Lit takes the personalization of podcasts even further … they’re live. “They’re unique because the listeners feel like they’re in the living room with the author, and since they’re live we can have people call in,” said Rare Bird founder Tyson Cornell.

Make sure to use a podcast as a chance to let people get to know you and like you. At the end of the day, that could be the impetus for purchasing your book.

5 Facts About the Latest E-Book Buying Trends

The results from the Book Industry Study Group’s “Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading” survey are now available! Thanks to Publishers Weekly magazine’s interpretation of the findings, here are the trends that we found to be important:

  1. Kindle and Nook are growing in popularity. Even those who were reading e-books before on different platforms are jumping on the Kindle/Nook bandwagon. Yes, more e-book readers are now opting to use dedicated e-readers to read their e-books. Fewer people are reading e-books on a computer.
  2. Fans of the e-book aren’t going anywhere. People who were e-book readers before are becoming even more devoted to the electronic versions of books. In fact, their purchases of e-books have only continued to rise, while their purchases of print books continue to fall. About 67% of e-book buyers said they increased their spending on e-books since last fall; 45% said they reduced spending on hardcovers.
  3. Amazon still rules. Amazon is the leader in the book-selling industry. E-books are no exception. More than 70% of e-book buyers report making their purchases through Amazon. Barnes and Noble remains a distant second (27%), with the iBookstore and iTunes remaining below 10%.
  4. Price matters. One of the greatest appeals of the e-book has always been the price. But e-book prices have actually risen over the last year (around 25%) which e-book readers claim has prevented them from purchasing more e-books. (Imagine what the stats would be if the prices had remained the same!)
  5. Free excerpts rule! According to e-book readers, having access to free chapters or samples had the biggest impact on getting them to buy an e-book. In fact, this seems to be more of a decision-maker than online reviews.

So, authors, keep those e-books coming. They just may be your path to the bestseller list!

Apps for Authors: When Is It Going to Saturate the Adult Market?

Every week, I see a new piece on Publishers Weekly about a new app related to a book. Here’s this week’s piece. And here’s last week’s. Notice anything? Yes, they’re all apps related to children’s books.

Some of the cool things that these apps offer include games, an audio reading of the book, artwork, zoom features, etc…. These are all great for kids and can really help enhance the reading experience.

But there have been very few apps so far related to adult books. I’m sure that adults who are huge fans of Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark would be thrilled to download their apps. But that leads to the big question: what exactly would be on these apps?

I don’t have an answer. If I did, I’d be creating apps by the boatload right about now. I do have this feeling that more and more adult authors are going to be creating and selling apps related to their books, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s going to be on them. Nor can I figure out whether they’re going to be revenue-generating (i.e. people have to pay for the apps) or if they’re going to be marketing tools for the authors.

So I ask you: what do you think the future of apps and adult books will be? How do you envision them interacting in the future? Share your thoughts!

Paper Books or E-Books? Which Ones Are People Really Reading

I work with many authors who wonder if they should publish an e-book. On the other hand, some ONLY want to publish e-books. But which one is really going to sell?

To find that out, we go to the source: the readers. What exactly are readers’ preferences in 2011? Paper books or e-books?

First, we should note that e-book sales have been going up in recent years, and paper book sales have been going down. That’s to be expected: as technology improves and more people buy Kindles/Nooks, there will be more e-books sold.

Thanks to a conversation on LinkedIn this week, we were able to cull some answers to the question: “Would you be more incline to read a e-book vs a paper book?” Here are quotes excerpted from some of the responses…

  • “I still love to feel the paper, browse the shelves for that certain book and mostly take my book outside and read. Even with the improvements to ebooks it is still hard to read one in the sun. eReaders will never replace a physical book for me.”
  • “The price of books in print right now is horrific for my budget. I love the feel of a book but have gotten used to my Kindle and now love it.”
  • “I look for an e-book first because I can keep the book in my portable device, have it anywhere, and find it easily. … I’ve always used my savings in buying a big name author’s e-books to fund purchases of new unknown authors and have discovered many new favorites that way.”
  • “Right now I’m getting all sorts of $.99 books from Amazon and trying new authors that I never heard of. Some are absolutely great–just didn’t get enough publicity or promotion.”
  • “I still read books but the Kindle has become my preference. I don’t have to waste gas money going to a store. I just buy and it’s put on my device by the company.”
  • “I never really thought I’d be big on ebooks. Got a Kindle for a present last December, and honestly? I’ve read about three or four print books since, but over fifty digital ones. … Readers who pick up an ereader don’t go back to paper, except for the occasional book. “
  • “I love books…the smell…the feel…the visual impact. I cannot imagine using only a Kindle, though I see the advantages.”
  • “While I enjoy (at times) the feel of a paper book, don’t really care for the smell, especially of a library book, my arthritis tends to make me appreciate an eBook for more comfort.”

So, there you have it. Some people still love the feel of a paper book. But more and more people are getting “converted” to eBooks. It also seems like the affordability of e-books makes it a must for a new author: it’s more likely that someone who isn’t a follower of your writing yet will give your book a read electronically.

In short, you need an e-book. I don’t think there’s any way around it. The paper book? Believe it or not, that’s probably less important.

Thinking of Publishing an eBook? Get Expert Answers to Your Questions

I speak with many authors who are interested in turning their book (or a segment of it) into an eBook that can easily be purchased and downloaded. I also get lots of questions from authors about eBooks and how to create them — most of which I don’t have the expertise to answer.

With that in mind, I turned to David Wogahn, an Internet veteran and media entrepreneur. Over the past twenty years, David’s ventures have published on a range of subjects including sports, education, nutrition and business data utilizing a variety of digital media delivery methods including CD-ROM, websites, syndication and Kindle. David has also published five annual business directories in print.

In 2002, David founded Sellbox.com, which provides digital media authoring, conversion services and digital marketing support to authors and publishers of eBooks and mobile apps.

Here are David’s answers to some of the most common questions I get from authors about eBooks. If you have any further questions, post them in the “comments” box at the end of this blog post and we will do our best to get them answered.

Q: How important is the ebook cover when attracting an audience? Do you have any specific recommendations for ebook covers?

A: As everyone knows, covers are very important. However, I’m beginning to think that they are less important online than they are in a physical store. People browse a store shelf by looking at spines and the occasional cover. But you never see an online cover without some amount of descriptive text. That said, you still need a cover that grabs people even when the image is a thumbnail (Amazon’s thumbnail is 160 pixels x 160 pixels). So make it legible and look professional.

One more observation: right now ebook covers mimic print book cover dimensions even though the shape is irrelevant to the contents. I wonder if we’ll start seeing more ebooks designed to fill those 160 x 160 spaces, in other words square.

Q: How can I ensure that no one can copy my ebook and share it with friends?

A: The first question I ask authors is “why did you write this book”? If it’s to support their consulting practice, I ask them if it would be a bad thing if lots more people were exposed to their writing. Clearly this doesn’t apply to all writers but it’s worth thinking about.

Another point I make is that the music you download from Amazon or Apple is not copy protected. The reason is that copy restrictions unfairly hinder legitimate use of the content. There is vocal book-buying constituency that says these protections do more harm than good.

I try to educate my clients about the pros and cons and let them decide. It falls into my Big Three Decisions bucket: price, copy protection (called DRM or digital rights management) and covers. All subjective choices for the author.

Q: What if I want to sell my ebook through my website? What kind of technology would I need to have?

A: The easiest thing to do is link to your book in the online stores at Amazon and B&N, to name just two. While it is possible to sell downloads direct—J.K. Rowling is doing that with Pottermore—you have to think about the return on your investment to set it up.

Q: How would I get my ebook listed on Amazon/B&N?

A: Both of these stores have a free conversion and selling tool. Check out Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and B&N’s Pubit.

Q: How does the cost of an ebook compare to the cost of a hardcover?

A: Again, pricing is one of my Big Three Decisions. Here are a few things for your readers to think about:

  • Your royalty rate depends on your price. For example, Amazon pays 70% if you price between $2.99 and $9.99. Otherwise it’s 35%.
  • Don’t offer the ebook at a significant discount from your print book, if you have one.
  • Start at 99 cents so you can give it as a “gift” to your friends, family and potential reviewers. You can always increase it later.
  • Some prices tend to track according to book size.
  • Bonus thought: books are becoming an impulse buy so price accordingly.

There are other considerations and this topic continues to evolve.

Q: What’s the difference between an ebook and a PDF?

A: A PDF is essentially an image on a Kindle or Nook. Imagine not being able to do all those things that e-readers are really great at: font sizing, dictionary lookup, bookmarking, underlining, social sharing, etc. You can’t do that with a PDF.

I remember getting my first Kindle and trying to read a PDF. It was the first and last time I tried doing that!

Q: Can an author just use InDesign to create an eBook? What are the benefits and drawbacks of doing that?

A: Yes, sort of… Once the book is done there are tools that help the designer/user convert the file into a format for selling in the stores. Amazon announced an InDesign plug-in for Kindle but I haven’t used it. You can also save the file in other formats (like RTF) that can be converted. But whatever you do, don’t export a PDF and try to convert it to an ebook format. They tend to be riddled with formatting problems.

In closing, this is a great time to be an author and there really isn’t any downside to publishing in the ebook format.

Life’s Getting Better for Self-Published Authors

I came across two different articles in the last two days that are about completely separate things, but they both relate to self-publishing. And they’re both pretty encouraging for those who opt to self-publish.

First, I saw this piece about literary agents shifting careers to become self-publishing consultants. The article spotlights three different agents who, in different ways, are moving over to the field of self-publishing. It’s a must-read — covering topics like how these agents/consultants make their money, how they moved into self publishing (hint: they had great books that weren’t being picked up by publishers), and what kinds of services they offer to authors who opt to self-publish.

Then, earlier today, I came across this article, announcing that John Locke has become the first self-published author (eighth overall) to join the Kindle Million Club. Yes, this means that a self-published author sold one million kindle editions of his book. That’s pretty much every self-published author’s dream! I’d certainly love to find out what his marketing plan was. I’m sure you would, too.

So, in conclusion, the last few days have been pretty good for the self-publishing industry. Just like many of the other trends in our society (tablet computers, Hulu, etc…), self-publishing is definitely on the upswing. That’s good news to all of you authors who have opted to self-publish or are considering it for the future.