Social Media & ePublishing with Sean Cranbury at Canadian Authors Vancouver

Canadian Authors Vancouver Meeting, March 12, 2014

Social Media & ePublishing with Sean Cranbury

by Nancy Tinari

On March 12, 2014, Canadian Authors Vancouver had the privilege of hosting Sean Cranbury, creator of Books on the Radio, as the guest speaker at their monthly meeting.

Cranbury overwhelmed his listeners (in a good way) with his energy, his humour, his obvious love of books, and his expertise in the subject of ePublishing and the role social media plays in it.

About Sean Cranbury

Cranbury began his presentation by summarizing his experience in books and publishing. His career in books started out in the late ‘80s when he worked for an independent bookstore, Chapman Books. He subsequently also worked at Sophia Books and the Virgin Megastore in downtown Vancouver.

One of his key achievements was starting the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series in 2010. In February 2010, as most people will remember, Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics. Cranbury realized that no literary events had been planned to celebrate the talent of Canadian writers during this world-class spectacle. So he started the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series, which showcased the work of 44 writers over four weeks during the time of the Olympic competitions.

Cranbury also created Books on the Radio, a radio show that airs on the Simon Fraser University (SFU) station CJSF 90.1 FM. You can find more information about Books on the Radio and the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series at www.booksontheradio.org. On Twitter, use #BOTR.

Cranbury also works with the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SIWC) and put in a few plugs for that event during his presentation. SIWC is an international literary festival where writers can meet other writers as well as agents, editors, and marketing experts. Writers can sign up for 15-minute blue-pencil sessions with an agent to pitch their book. You can find SIWC at www.siwc.ca . This year’s conference takes place October 24–26, 2014, with master classes on October 23. The conference hosts a writing contest that includes several categories and cash prizes; submissions are $15 each. You can read more about the contest at http://www.siwc.ca/writing-contest/2013-writing-contest-rules .

Cranbury’s rave about the Internet

Very early in his presentation, Cranbury raved about the Internet. He said something like, “It’s the biggest achievement of mankind since the invention of language.” According to him, the Internet is ending the traditional business model.

Piracy

Most people and businesses talk about piracy of content—in whatever medium, whether it is the written word, music, photography, etc.—as being a huge problem. Cranbury energetically opposes this view. He believes the books that are shared the most online are also the ones that sell the most! Sharing is what sells books: online sharing generates enthusiasm and has the potential for exponentially-growing publicity.

Cranbury gave us a whirlwind oral tour through topics relating to self-publishing and social media that lasted just over an hour. He only had time to touch on each subject for five or ten minutes, but it was clear that he could easily provide an hour or even a day-long seminars’ worth of information on every topic. I will briefly mention some highlights of his talk.

Social media platforms: which to use?

Cranbury emphasized the power of social media throughout the evening. At the beginning of his talk, he asked if any audience members had heard about a recent forum on Canadian literature that took place in Montreal. Only one audience member was aware of this forum. When she volunteered that she had learned about it through a post by a Facebook friend, Cranbury leaped in, saying, “Aha! That’s how it happens!”

However, it  was reassuring to learn that he doesn’t think it’s necessary to use every platform out there. His advice was to use the minimum number of tools necessary to do the job. He recommended Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress. For book lovers, Goodreads is also helpful. Someone in the audience asked Cranbury about using Google+. He said it is used only by select groups; you can ignore it unless you’re  interacting with these groups.

The key idea is to use social media to build relationships that will help you in your work. And even though he is keen about the Internet, Cranbury acknowledges the irreplaceable value of meeting others in person.

Self-publishing

This is a huge topic, but Cranbury specifically mentioned the website http://pressbooks.com/ for Do It Yourself (DIY) publishing. This company was started by Hugh McGuire. Cranbury quoted a recent tweet by @hughmcguire; it was something like this: “The distinction between ‘the internet’ & ‘books’ is totally arbitrary, and will disappear in 5 years.”

Pressbooks.com is a one-stop publishing platform. It is free unless you get the premium version that will give you custom templates, cover design, editing help, or access to a distribution network. The free service will allow you to produce online file forms (ePubs) for various devices. However, Cranbury stressed the need to have a properly-designed book; you can’t just plug your Word file into the site without formatting it carefully.

I did some research by looking at the Pressbooks website. It is a nicely organized, simple website that is easy to navigate. The site includes some guidance and links to extra help for writers who are proficient with software and want to do everything themselves. The free version includes a choice of three templates plus the option to individualize templates, but it does not include editing or cover design. Paid versions of the service are available, varying in price between $300 and $700, depending on the length of the manuscript and the number of images included. A custom design option allows you to create a unique in-house style, but this is expensive! It costs $2,500 or more to have a theme built from scratch.

You can also pay for a distribution network. Cranbury stressed that this is extremely valuable for writers. Starting at $99, authors can have their book listed on the databases of the books giants for distribution into Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.

Print On Demand

Cranbury mentioned the growing availability of POD. There are machines all over the world that can print your book.

Soundcloud.com

Cranbury is a big fan of this site. It’s an audio-sharing site, and you can get a free account that allows you to share a few hours of audio a month. Soundcloud is mainly a music site. When I explored it briefly, I was overwhelmed by the choice of music available. The site offers new musicians great exposure, but Cranbury pointed out that it can be a great tool for writers as well. You can do readings from your book to generate publicity. Also, you will attract new followers by catering to an audience that prefers to listen to content rather than read it. Podcasts are very popular, and people can listen while driving or doing other activities that can’t be mixed with reading.

Again on the subject of piracy, Cranbury offered a fascinating tidbit: “More vinyl records are being sold now than ever before in history!” They come with free, sharable MP3s. This demonstrates, again, the value of sharing.

https://soundcloud.com

Internet listening posts

Cranbury talked about metrics briefly, and stressed the importance of finding out how people are looking at your content, who they are, how long they spend on various pages, etc. One example of an Internet listening post is Google Alerts. This is a great way of following the topics and people you want to keep updated about. You can use your own name as an alert to see what people are interested in about you and your content.

Responsive design

Ensuring that your content looks good on all types and sizes of reading devices) is critical.

Thank you

Thank you, Sean Cranbury, for a most entertaining and informative evening!

Sean Cranbury can be contacted at the following:

e.seancranbury@gmail.com 778-987-8774

 

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Current trends in book publishing: Robert Mackwood presents at the Canadian Authors Association, Vancouver

On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, I had the privilege of hearing literary agent Robert Mackwood give a presentation to the Vancouver Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA).

Mackwood is a literary agent with thirty years’ experience in book publishing, including fifteen years working for both large and small publishers and fifteen years as an independent literary agent and consultant.

His fast-paced, entertaining talk provided an insider’s take on current trends in publishing. His advice could be helpful to many authors, especially those writing their first book and wondering about self-publishing. This post will highlight some of his points.

Trends

• There are no mid-size publishers left in Canada, only the huge international publishers and very small independent publishing houses.
• The number of independent bookstores has been decreasing for some years and that trend will continue.
• Books sales are down.

Beware of who you choose to be your literary agent

Mackwood estimates there are only about twenty legitimate literary agents in Canada. Anyone can claim to be an agent. A person’s track record is crucial. Ask your potential literary agent, “What have you sold?”

Challenging assumptions: the facts

• 95% of books are not represented by an agent.
• Agents don’t do editing or marketing. Agents are an arbitrator between an author and a publisher.
• A bestseller is a book that is on a bestseller list. Mackwood talked about the often-quoted (but incorrect) statement: “A Canadian book is a bestseller if it sells 5,000 copies.” He explained that this misperception originated when someone asked Jack McClelland, sometime in the 1970s, how many copies a book would likely have to sell in Canada to make it onto a bestseller list.
McClelland’s reply, “About 5,000,” doesn’t mean that any book that sells 5,000 copies is automatically a bestseller. Mackwood joked about the guy who paid to have 5,000 copies of his book printed, and then claimed to have written a “bestseller”.
• Don’t write a book if your main goal is to make money. Write a book if you have an idea or topic you feel strongly about, and you want to make a contribution.
• No one writes a bestseller in thirty days. Don’t believe it.

Advantages of traditional publishing

• There is still prestige attached to being published by a recognized publishing house.
• The publisher will provide some editing and marketing services.
• The publisher will cover printing costs.
• The publisher will provide an advance against royalties (though advances are getting smaller).

However, Mackwood is very much a promoter of self-publishing. It no longer carries the stigma of the old “vanity press”, when people printed books that no publisher would touch. These days, many bestselling and critically-acclaimed books are self-published. Many started out as self-published books and were then picked up by traditional publishers once they had become successful. The quality of self-published books can now be as high as traditionally-published books.

Advantages of self-publishing

• Author control.
• Building your own brand—a book is an excellent tool for this.
• Much better royalties—but you have to work a lot harder, at preparing your book for print, marketing, and distribution. (There are independent distributors who, for a fee, will get self-published books into stores. However, they take a large chunk of the profits. The danger is that stores retain the right to return unsold books. When books are returned, the publisher—in this case, the author—loses money.)
• Online marketing opportunities can be good—if you learn how to use them.
• Happiness. Most people experience a huge sense of satisfaction when they can hold their finished book in their hand.

E-books and other predictions about the future of books

• The number of e-books sold in the United States is getting close to the number of print books sold.
• One advantage of e-books is that they allow older books to be continually available. Before, backlisted books would be removed from a publisher’s list if they didn’t sell at least thirty copies a week. Then they would be out of print and unavailable anywhere except libraries or used bookstores.
• The average price for an e-book now is in the $6.99–7.99 range. There are plenty of e-books available for 99 cents or for free. Authors usually get a 25% royalty.
• It’s still the “Wild West days” of e-book publishing. What will people be willing to pay for e-books? Should writers specifically gear their books to the e-book market? We don’t yet know the answers to these questions.

Robert Mackwood is now doing more consulting work, helping authors who need guidance and direction with their book ideas (in contrast to trying to sell an already-completed book to a publisher). He can be reached through his Seventh Avenue Literary Agency website at http://www.seventhavenuelit.com .

***

Ryan Vetter speaks about self-publishing e-books through Wundr

Ryan Vetter, founder of the self-publishing company Wundr (http://www.wundrbooks.com ), also spoke at the same meeting to tell us how his company can assist writers who want to self-publish an e-book. His company has produced writing software called Playwrite that allows writers to create a book from scratch and end up with an ePub file, with no need for file conversion.

The company also offers writers many other services, such as a wide selection of high-quality, affordable book covers (including animated covers), free ISBN #s, and lots of advice about how to market e-books and ramp up sales. Wundr’s basic fee is 5% of royalties, but they can provide more extensive marketing packages to writers for a higher fee.

Vetter mentioned that the two things critical to successful e-book sales are
1) The cover image.
2) A superbly-written preview of the e-book—this preview consists of about 10% of the book’s content, and is offered to readers for free to entice them to buy the book.

Someone in the audience asked Vetter if Wundr provided editing services. He replied that they did, but it was an automated process. As an editor, I didn’t like the sound of that. I know there are excellent editing software programs available, but reputable editors don’t work with software alone. Many editors use software to be efficient at mundane tasks of copy editing and style consistency, but good editing is much more than that.

Alan Twigg on B.C. BookWorld, writing and e-books

The winter 2012-2013 issue of B.C. BookWorld

The winter 2012-2013 issue of B.C. BookWorld

“I’ve spent the past two years writing a book for myself and one reader.”

Last Wednesday night I was privileged to attend a Canadian Authors Association meeting featuring guest speaker Alan Twigg.

Twigg is famous in the B.C. publishing world, and rightly so. He has turned his passion for B.C. and its writers into his life’s work. In 1987, he founded the quarterly literary newspaper B.C. BookWorld, which is chock-full of stories and book reviews about B.C. authors and their work. He continues to be the principal writer for this publication, with partner David Lester in charge of editing and production. Twigg has also created the online resource http://www.abcbookworld.com . This site now lists over 10,000 B.C. authors. It is searchable by author or by title and provides a veritable treasure trove of information on these authors and their contributions to B.C.’s historical and cultural landscape.

Twigg mentions that he is a fifth-generation B.C. native, but he acknowledges that most people are immigrants here, and claims that even if you aren’t from here, “B.C. will rub off on you.” He claims that we have “a psychological zone” here that is very different from most other places on the planet. Twigg relates a few anecdotes to illustrate how little of B.C.’s history is taught in schools. It is the authors Twigg promotes unflaggingly through B.C. BookWorld who have shared Twigg’s sense of wonder about B.C. through their research and the books they’ve created.

In a sense Twigg’s pride in B.C.’s writers is ironic because he admits that in the hierarchy of international publishing B.C.’s publishing industry doesn’t even make it to “the bottom rung of the ladder”. Internationally, the top places are New York, London, Frankfurt, and a few other cities, with Toronto positioned somewhere near the bottom of that ladder.

Twigg calls this situation the “outsiderism” of B.C. Yet, he goes on to ask, why should we complain or care if a B.C. writer never makes it onto the cover of Quill & Quire? [a Toronto-based literary magazine]. We don’t care because we have our own B.C. BookWorld.

Twigg is proud of what he calls “the huge appetite for B.C. BookWorld”. He describes B.C. BookWorld as an educational newspaper containing “deeper news”. In his conception, books are a form of “cultural news”. The online site abc.bookworld.com is now getting about a thousand views a day.

In everything he says, Twigg conveys the idea that successful writing is not reflected by the number of readers but by the quality of readers. The whole question of how many readers a writer needs is related to Twigg’s conviction that B.C. writers don’t have to be ashamed that they don’t publish in the “power centres” of publishing. He does concede, however, that if you’re a writer who wants to be rich and famous, you’d better go to New York, London, Frankfurt, and other top publishing cities.

In one of his more outrageous statements of the evening, Twigg expressed his opinion of readings and literary festivals: “Readings are a ridiculous bastardization of literature.”

Why? Because both reading and writing are private activities, according to Twigg, who believes that “writing is underfunded because it’s not a spectacle,” like other arts such as dance and theatre.

(I should add that Twigg muttered some disclaimers, such as “I have nothing against the Vancouver Writers Fest” along with his statements about readings.)

Although I agree with him that the serious business of writing and reading books happens in private, I enjoy attending readings. Most people are curious to meet the authors of books they like. They want to compare the writer’s “voice” with the real person, and perhaps to gain some insights into the creative process and technical aspects of writing. Also, oral storytelling is an ancient art, and a writer who reads his book well can enhance his audience’s appreciation of it. Getting a “taste” of a book through a public reading often leads me to buy it (or at least read it!).

When I suggested that writers could gain international readers for their books through e-publishing, Twigg responded with scorn. He thinks e-books are putting independent bookstores out of business because they are so cheap. I agree with him on this, but I don’t agree with his opinion that people don’t really want e-books and have just been seduced by low prices and the persuasive marketing of e-readers. E-readers are here to stay because many people appreciate their portability and convenience.

However, I agree with Twigg that virtually every writer would prefer to be able to hold his own book in his hand. A physical object isn’t the same thing as words on a computer screen. Twigg is quite supportive of self-publishing, acknowledging that many high-quality books are now produced this way. One advantage of self-publishing is that writers have more control over the design and production of their books. Twigg sees self-published and print-on-demand books making up an ever-larger percentage of books.

Twigg encourages writers not to be overly concerned about how many copies of books they sell. Writers (and the readers they most want to have) are motivated primarily by their desire to create and appreciate art. This must be the reason Twigg, a self-confessed “private person” is willing to work so hard to promote the writers he believes in. After all, as he concludes, “Life is empty without art.”