Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Science Fiction Romance Solution For The Problem of Geographical Restrictions

ape thinking

In October 2010, Dear Author’s Jane wrote a post called “How Do We Solve a Problem Like Geographical Restrictions.” This post was in response to “…non US readers asking why a certain book isn’t available to them that they KNOW is out there because they have seen it on the torrent sites.” In other words, non U.S. readers can’t always purchase the books they want because certain rights haven’t been sold. As Jane put it:

Geographic restrictions, in a readers’ eye, is an unreasonable impediment to purchasing a book. A reader knows that the book is out there, in digital format, one click away, and the inability to purchase it because of some incomprehensible reason termed “geographic restrictions” fosters anger, frustration, and anxiety.

It’s a topic both complex and fascinating, and I encourage you to read the post as well as the lively discussion that follows.

As I scrolled through the comments and read about the frustration faced by non U.S. readers, the proverbial light bulb went off in my head:

* Non U.S. readers need books to read.

* Science fiction romance is a subgenre in need of a wider audience.

* Ebooks open up a whole new way of delivering stories, including directly from authors to readers.

* Ergo, science fiction romance authors could actually take advantage of geographical restrictions by selling some (or all!) of their books directly to international readers.

Basically, I’m proposing the idea of creating a collective wherein a group of authors band together to sell their science fiction romance stories, attractively priced, to readers limited by geographical restrictions. However, this proposition isn’t just about making the books available (because this way, of course, anyone could purchase them). The goal would involve specifically marketing the books to international readers.

The power of social networking media like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs would help such authors connect with readers looking for ebooks to buy. I envision a campaign centered around that one goal. Even a simple blog would be enough to link to the available ebooks.

While readers may not be able to obtain all the ebooks they want, at least they’ll have more choices. Based on my reading of Jane’s post, non U.S. readers are currently underserved. Science fiction romance could step in to help fill that need. And by creating a site/blog that features links to the available ebooks, readers wouldn’t have to search all over the Internet.

The endeavor would offer other advantages to authors:

* Authors decide pricing and retain all profits
* Authors would control things like covers and marketing copy
* Flexibility to write and sell stories of varying length
* The stories will be available for as long as authors care to sell them.
* Warm and fuzzy feelings from performing such a needed service

Seems to me that short stories and novellas would make the idea of selling directly to readers much less daunting. Variety is good, but authors could begin with shorter works to test the waters.

I’m assuming this project wouldn’t be viable or attractive for established authors in the print medium whose contracts might prohibit them from being involved. Rather, I see more appeal for e-published authors, aspiring authors, e-self-published authors, and authors with backlist SFR titles. And possibly, authors who have been dropped by their mainstream print publishers and are interested in writing for the digital medium.

This endeavor might also hold appeal for authors who have the rights to their out of print backlist science fiction romances. Kelly McClymer added a very interesting point along these lines in the comments of Jane’s post (#209):

The authors who are putting up their out of print back list don’t have to put geographical restrictions on the books. In fact, Amazon offers the 70% royalty rate only if you don’t put geographical restrictions on your distribution (Amazon gets it, and it is definitely trying to push the publishers and governments toward a more global-friendly e-marketplace).
[Emphasis mine]

That said, I’m fully aware a project like this has risks. It would consume a lot of time and energy, and there’s no guarantee authors would make a return on their investments.

Plus, the stories would have to be good. Really good. Good enough to prove to non U.S. readers who are limited by geographical restrictions that it’s worth spending their hard-earned money on science fiction romances. In order to increase the chances that a quality product is being delivered, it would behoove authors to employ the services of freelance editors and/or solid beta readers.

Additionally, there’s more to this process than just writing a story and throwing up a site. But how to learn about the nitty gritty of selling directly to readers? Luckily, I knew of one person who possessed the know-how, and who has had experience selling her books to international readers.

The ProvisoAuthor Moriah Jovan is her name. I’d previously seen her comments around the blogosphere relating to various ebook topics, and it was her comment in response to Jane’s post that piqued my interest. When I contacted her about this, she generously allowed me to pick her brain about what in her experience authors would need to know about selling ebooks directly to readers.

I asked Moriah for permission to quote her answers to my questions, and she agreed. Here are some of the key points she made about setting up an author “store”:

Assuming authors have their own rights, what you'd need is:

1. Website with a WordPress installation (but NOT OR ZenCart (or both, I guess).
2. Any one of a couple of really good WP shopping cart plugins that will hook into Paypal and has an auto-download feature OR ZenCart
3. A Paypal account.
4. Digital files.

Quite frankly, if you have a lot of titles, go with the ZenCart or another open-source shopping cart platform. Any shopping cart you get has to a) be able to hook into Paypal and b) auto-deliver individual digital files once payment is made.

Moriah went on to point out the limitations of a closed system in some cases. For example, customers can’t download directly to their Kindle from the author’s shopping cart platform. They’ll have to download the ebook(s) to their computers and sideload.

During her own research into selling her own ebooks as well as the various formats involved, Moriah “finally decided that the only important ones were PDF, EPUB, and MOBI (Kindle).”

She also shared that

I bundle up all my formats in a ZIP file (which isn't the best way in the world) in lieu of having an ever-available bookshelf. I would LOVE to provide a bookshelf where people can load formats individually, but I can't afford it yet. So they get ALL the formats, but they have to unzip and sideload.

The short of it is, non U.S. readers need only be able to Google to find the science fiction romance books they want and have a credit card to purchase them.

However, there’s still the challenge of converting the story to a digital file in one of the above formats. You can Google in order to find free ways to convert to PDF, but what about the others?

When I asked about this aspect, Moriah shared that she offers conversion services. To give you an idea of related costs, I asked if she wouldn’t mind me sharing her rates, and she agreed:

Base prices (relatively clean file; includes linked table of contents and embedded cover image that client provides)

Kindle $125
EPUB $125
Smashwords $60


Word document extracted from a PDF ("clean" extraction $25; price goes up from there, especially if I have to retype anything)
Table of Contents with more than 30 links (12.5c per link)
Footnotes converted to endnotes and reciprocally linked ($10 for conversion + 25c per reciprocal link)
Images (2.50 - 3.50 each)
Indices (25c per link)
Rush charge ($250+ surcharge for a 24-hour turnaround time)

As a point of reference, my normal turnaround time is 2 weeks; others are up to 90 days.

So unless you know someone capable and willing to do the conversion for free, this would involve some up-front costs. Doing the math for one ebook in one format, say, EPUB, and priced at $2.99, an author would have to sell roughly 42 copies before recouping initial costs. And that’s not including paying someone to do a cover (if the author so chooses—otherwise it’s DIY), paying a freelance editor, or other extras.

Geographical restrictions are going to exist for some time. Therefore, I envision this proposal as a long term project, one that might be months or even a year or two in the making. But I wanted to blog about it in case some entrepreneurial-minded authors might see value in such a venture.

Whether you are an author or a reader, what do you think about this idea? Are there any other pros or cons?

Joyfully yours,