“Starting an Internet Publishing Business”
On July 1st, 1999 I had retired from the Hammonton, New Jersey Public School District as a middle school English teacher after thirty-four years of dedicated service. I knew there would be an eight-hour Monday-through-Friday daily time-void in my life (until my wife would retire from public school education in 2005), so I decided to fill the vacuum by making my avocation (writing) my vocation. The task of becoming a successful Internet author was much more formidable than I had originally anticipated.
I had written and re-written two-dozen book-length manuscripts over the past three decades and knew I could get over two million words in print within several months. My naïve strategy was to blitz the Internet marketplace with my two-dozen e-books and cause a robust chemical reaction. ‘People tend to be binge readers,’ I thought, ‘and if someone were to read one of my books, I figure that person would immediately desire to read another of my works.’ Right? Wrong!
My first assumed task was to find a workable pen name. Samuel Langhorne Clemens used the pseudonym Mark Twain, William Sydney Porter was O. Henry, H.H. Monroe became Saki and Mary Ann Evans did pretty well using the name George Eliot because she was trying to be an author during a very chauvinistic male-dominated era. After several weeks of serious deliberation John Wiessner reckoned his pen name would be a corruption of his initials J.W., Jay Dubya.
You could imagine the elation I felt on Monday morning September 16, 2002 when I turned on my computer and first visited Amazon.com to see how my e-books were doing. My Black Leather and Blue Denim, A ‘50s Novel was Sales Ranked at #108 on Amazon.com out of over three million products in books, videos, toys, games, DVD’s, CDs, software, music, electronics and kitchenware.
Then I excitedly visited Amazon.co.uk and found that BL&BD was Sales Ranked #438 in the United Kingdom and after visiting Amazon.co.de (Germany), my e-books Pieces of Eight and Pieces of Eight, Part II were Sales Ranked #67 and #68 respectively in Germany. My young adult fantasy trilogy of Enchanta, Pot of Gold and Space Bugs, Earth Invasion was beginning to move in Japan. On September 16, 2002 some of my e-books were competing very well with Harry Potter novels and most Britney Spears CDs and DVDs around the world. How had all of that come about? Believe me, it wasn’t easy.
I had known from preliminary research that e-books were at the time selling fairly well on Amazon.com. The Art of War by Sun Tzu was for months one of the best selling products on Amazon.com and it was an e-book. E-books by established writers associated with big New York City publishers were also highly ranked, and Amazon Press had re-published novels and novellas by famous authors in e-format and those works were also selling big. What I did not understand at the time was that e-books by non-established self-published writers like Jay Dubya were selling zip.
I enthusiastically signed on with three Australian, five American and two Canadian e-publishers. I had my e-books produced in Adobe Reader and Microsoft Reader downloading formats for desktop computers and in Mobipocket Universal Download for all hand-held computers. Expensive artwork for all twelve titles had to be done for Internet display, so already I’m out about a thousand dollars an e-book, or twenty-four thousand bucks without recouping a single penny.
I had eagerly e-published my books with cyberread.com, ebookmall.com, ebooksonthe.net, electricebookpublishing.com, ebooks-for-sale.com, ebookland.net, ozonebooks.com and ebookstand.com in Adobe Reader downloading format. Ebookstand.com also would produce Print-on-Demand paperback versions of my books. Pretty neat strategy? Well, not really! Sales were still zilch!
I then spent countless hours listing and describing my books in Internet directories such as ebooksnbytes, ebookpalace.com, authorsden.com, Hammonton High School Directory, Bookzone, Bravenet.com, ebookheaven.com, e-book directory and knowbetter.com. Most of these listings were free so I thought I was developing a good base. Jay Dubya and my book titles soon appeared on Yahoo, Google, AOL Search, MSN Search, Lycos and FAST, Netscape, Hot Bottom, Alta Vista, Ask Jeeves and All-the-Net search engines. I was happy but then I reluctantly realized that I still wasn’t selling any books.
I published articles on writing at SFF.com, ebookpalace.com, Essay Depot and authorsden.com. This brought me certain recognition but I still was not selling any books. I was becoming mighty frustrated but I persisted and persevered. Google and Yahoo featured over 5,000 web pages for “Jay Dubya,” but I still wasn’t selling any books. It was as if I was functioning in a foreign reality, in another universe! I concluded it was futile being a free-lance author and going up against the omnipotent New York book publishing industry.
I sent out paperback review copies and obtained satisfactory book reviews from dreamwater.com, allreaders.com, storyweaver.com, Northwest Book Review and my hometown newspapers, but still I wasn’t selling any e-books or paperbacks. All in all I sent out over a hundred paperback review copies at an expense of over two thousand dollars (for I had to pay for each paperback copy), and I was on the edge of insanity when I noticed that no tangible results were occurring from all of my vigorous enthusiastic promotions. ‘Perhaps I’m being a complete fool thinking that I can compete with the powerful traditional New York City book industry?’ I again suspected and theorized. A hundred powerful publishers and five hundred influential book agents control the entire industry.
I quickly realized that I needed allies to help me sell my e-books on the Internet. I teamed up with ebookpalace.com, authorsden.com and ebookstand.com to promote my books. In the first six months, those three sites generated over fifty thousand hits for Jay Dubya, but out of fifty thousand Internet hits, I had sold less than a dozen books. ‘What is wrong here?’ I wondered.
The answer to my quandary was CREDIBILITY. Jay Dubya had none as an author. My big break came in February of 2003 when cyberread.com of Seattle, Washington bought ebookstand.com and then signed contracts for e-book distribution with Amazon.com, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Buy.com, Bookbooters (which has since gone out of business), Powell’s Books, e-Novel (now out of business) and finally Books-A-Million. My e-books, (hardcovers produced by Lightning Source) and paperbacks (produced by bookstand.com) were now being displayed online in lists alongside famous authors whose books were in hardback, paperback, audiocassette and also e-book formats.
I believe I caught a real break when I self-reviewed my Great Teen Fruit War, A 1960 Novel at AllReaders.com. The web site will have the author fill out a long form describing characters, plots, subplots and settings, and it turned out that my novel was very similar in construction to a famous work of fiction, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. That development brought many more visitors to my various Internet sites, but I still wasn’t selling any books.
A month later in March of ‘03 Black Leather and Blue Denim soared to 2,300 on Amazon.com after it was placed ALONGSIDE (for the keyword searches Black, Blue) the works of James Patterson (Violets are Blue) and Ian Rankin (Black and Blue). Amazon.com gave my two-dozen books parity and instant credibility on various web pages and after that happened, my chemical reaction strategy then started working. The public finally began perceiving me as being legitimate. I still can’t believe that by typing in “Eight” at Amazon Germany will yield my Pieces of Eight and Pieces of Eight, Part II (at this moment) Sales Ranked ahead of Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich, which has been heavily promoted by a huge New York publisher.
E-books are quite alive and selling, and in some cases they are outselling printed books. They are about one-fourth as expensive as hardbound copies, with my e-books selling from $4.95-$6.95. E-books save trees and are environmentally friendly. An electronic book is conveniently obtained because the product can be downloaded from the Internet in less than fifteen minutes. Also, the e-book print is large and can be adjusted in both Abobe Reader and Microsoft Reader digital encryption versions. But hardcover Print-on-Demand books are what really gave me credibility on various retail Internet sites.
In 2004 Cyberread.com (my principal publisher) signed a contract with Lightning Source to have authors’ works produced in hard cover format on a Print-on-Demand basis. Of course the author must finance each book for Print-on-Demand file setup, and now my books exist in five formats: hard cover (Lightning Source), paperback (ebookstand.com), and three e-book formats, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Reader and Mobipocket. The total cost for each book in five formats (along with ISBN numbers and Internet cover art display) averages around two thousand dollars for a hundred and fifty page book’ like Enchanta to twenty-eight hundred for a five-hundred page manuscript like my So Ya’ Wanna’ Be A Teacher.
The upside to book publishing is that I have a “Non-Exclusive” contract with cyberread, which means that I retain all of the subsidiary rights to my books and I have control over their intellectual content. The downside to e-book and Print-on-Demand publishing is that standard literary reviewers like the New York Times and Publishers Weekly will not review your book (or books) because those influential publications regard e-publishing as a form of “vanity publishing.” And unfortunately at the present (2008), my books are exclusively sold over the Internet and are not sold in bookstores or distributed to libraries, even though Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million sell my books on their Internet web sites they still don’t carry my works in their brick and mortar retail stores.
In conclusion e-books and Print-on-Demand paperbacks and hard covers are a definite threat to the standard publishing industry. Up until recently a hundred big New York City publishers and about five hundred agents acted as a giant filter deciding what the general public should or should not read. E-books will eventually change all that “Big Apple Gatekeeper stuff” and swing power to the reading public, giving the people the right to decide what they want to read and what they don’t want to read.
I desire to be a part of this e-book revolution. I want to be a pioneer helping to lead the e-book and Print-on-Demand industries into the twenty-first century publishing frontier. I don’t think it’s right that an author should receive only 7-10% of a retail book price and surrender his subsidiary rights to a print-publisher. I’m now partners with Amazon.com (and many other online retail outlets) and make 40-50% of retail e-book sales and approximately 20-25% of the hard cover sales price. And I still retain all rights to my books. But again on the ugly downside, my books are not presently sold in bookstores or distributed to standard libraries as “conventional” printed books are and also, I must do all of the promotion and most of the marketing myself.
Nothing gives me more satisfaction than to type in “Black and Blue” at Amazon.co.uk and seeing my Black Leather and Blue Denim novel often Sales Ranked above Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen, a book and author aggressively promoted by Oprah’s Book Club. I did it on my own without any super-publishers or promoters helping me and if it weren’t for the Internet, cyberread.com, Amazon.com and a bit of serendipity, my career as an author would have never blossomed. For example, all three of my Australian e-book publishers have gone out of business.
So contrary to popular opinion e-commerce is not dead. I think that within the next several years there will be a definite resurgence of .com mania and more and more people will be purchasing e-books and Print-on-Demand titles.
Jay Dubya (author of 41 books)