In this second part of my interview with Kevin Oxland, (you can read Part One here) we discuss the company, Peachstone Publications, Kevin has set up to self publish his book Lost Souls, the importance - for the indie-published author - of being both a writer and a business person, the rise and future of e-books and app development.
You’ve set up your own company to publish Lost Souls – what was the motivation for doing so and why did you particularly feel you needed to create your own publishing company?
Long term, we want to create a quality brand that will hopefully help other authors down the self publishing route. We love stories and on occasion I’ve read some great ones that have never been published. I’d love to see stories like these break through and that’s partly why we created Peachstone. We’ll go into more details on our website on how we propose to do this.
I heard the author of the ‘Horrible Histories’ series on breakfast television say, and I quote, ‘The book publishing industry is sinking faster than the Titanic.’ He also said that publishers weren’t moving with the times i.e. digital. Now I don’t actually believe that is or will happen at all. You’re talking about an industry that’s been around for hundreds of years. I think they’re going through a transitional phase, like the music and video game industries did / are, but it’s a little scary to hear a successful author say that. So you kind of wonder what is going on and it’s yet another reason why it’s so hard to get published. If it was hard to get published before, it’s much harder today and thus Peachstone was born.
How did you set about choosing a particular business model for Peachstone and what is that particular model?
The future is clearly e-books and apps whether we like it or not. That’s not to say traditional books will die, they won’t. There will always be a place for the book, but even traditional publishers will one day deliver POD books (if they don’t already) as the technology gets cheaper and more accessible. There are already vending machines ‘Espresso Book Machine’ that will print your book in five minutes while you wait. I would like to point out that Lightning Source have a distribution channel into this system also….just thought I’d mention that. So for Peachstone, physical books are quality POD paperbacks, and POD is simply going to get better with time. There’s no shame in that and we are proud to say we provide POD right now. It means we don’t have to stock pile books and only those that are ordered get printed.
Peachstone’s focus is on content and ensuring we provide an engaging experience for the customer. We have to provide e-books because the market demands it and its expanding so fast. You simply can’t ignore that. Kindle already out sells hardbacks and it’s just a matter of time before e-books match paperbacks.
We are also looking at production features for each e-reader so it plays on the format strengths. Nook is colour for example and as for the iPad, well, let your imagination run wild. I believe books will become much more interactive in the future as more and more books are read on tablets.
You’ve said you will be accepting work from other writers - on what basis? For example, what are Peachstone’s submission guidelines and how will you manage this process – what will guide your selection criteria? What sort of writers would you like to attract to Peachstone?
Yes, we would like to help more authors get their work out there. We are still discussing the details of this and they will be released on our website. Of course, we have to be careful we’re not simply mimicking traditional publishers so our criteria will be clear. I can’t detail the selection criteria right now, but like I said before, it’s a subjective business so there will be various levels of service we will offer.
Peachstone products in the future will utilise the web and interactive devices (including popular handheld games consoles). Combined with my background of twenty six years experience in art and designing video games, I think we can offer something quite unique to author’s long term.
You already co-own a development studio. Tell us a bit about how you foresee the development of apps, the role they will play in the future of children’s books and the relevance of apps.
In the context of books, I think it’s going to change a lot. The potential to create engaging interactive experiences is huge. You have more elements to play with - touch, sound and above all, choice. Choice in that the reader can choose his own path through a story and perhaps this will be organic so the reader is not really aware he’s doing it, but will be based on a few decisions the readers make. These are very exciting things for the future, but it’s important to retain the core attraction of books - the story.
In addition to publishing traditional paper books, you’ve indicated that you will also publish e-books – what made you choose this particular focus, do you believe the future lies primarily in e-books?
I’m not entirely sure that that is a focus for us. Our focus is on content. Engaging; entertaining content. The market will dictate how they want to receive that content. We will give them what they want and thanks to POD and digital distribution, we can do that.
People are getting very passionate about losing paper and cardboard. Get over it. For us it’s what’s on the pages that count. If you buy a crap novel, the traditional book suddenly doesn’t look so nostalgic.
With POD and e-books, everybody can have it any way they want.
The marketing of e-books via Kindle, Nook, Smashwords etc relies heavily on the pricing factor. What is your pricing strategy for your own books and what pricing advice would you offer to others who want to self-publish e-books?
I read in Aaron’s book that Lightning Source has not increased the cost of printing books in the US for a decade. That illustrates how POD is getting cheaper as time and technology move forward. The consumer will see our books at around the same price as any traditional book and we can set the discount price too. As for e-books, the pricing will be much lower than the paperback because it’s cheaper (almost nil) to create (shame on publishers who charge the same price as the paperback) and we can still make a decent profit. With Lightning, the cost that would normally go to wholesale and distribution is absorbed into printing POD and because there is no wholesale, the books can stay around the same price.
I think if this trend continues the biggest loser in all of this will be retail. They need a BIG discount (around 40%) to cover their bricks and mortar costs. This is basically how it works. If a traditional publisher sets the retail price at 6.99 with a discount price of 55% (which is required for wholesale and distribution, sometimes more), the retailers will need to buy the book from wholesale at 40% discount to make any money at all. Anything less than that and they’re not really interested, which is why it’s difficult to get POD books into retail. There’s nothing in it for them.
So after all that the publisher is left with around 40% - 45% = 3.84. From that they have to make the book, pay all their staff and costs, marketing, oh and don’t forget the author gets his cut too (4-7%). The more you look into this, the more you understand why the humble author gets such a rotten deal and why it is so difficult to get published; because the traditional route involves huge risks and costs. The numbers above are rough figures, give or take. So, sweep all that away and go with Lightning and earn 10% - 30% of retail price, it’s really up to you.
In the same vein, what do you think a writer should be willing to invest in creating a self-published book, and what sort of return on investment do you think it’s realistic to expect?
That’s difficult to answer because I think every book will be different and will require different investment both monetary and time. Also, one of the great things about self-publishing is that it enables you to publish a book at a very small cost.
If you’re confident you have a great story, and if you only do one thing, get it edited by a professional. You can do this for $300-$400 (USD). Handing it around to your mates and critique groups doesn’t count. Professional editors are good at this, that’s all they do and will find things you never even thought about. They will kick your MS into good shape and prepare it for market.
A lot of people say a good cover will sell a book. I’m not sure about that, but a good cover will certainly attract the customer and a bad cover will put people off. It can be seen as a reflection of the content. I know I have been swayed by that in the past. For roughly the same price as an editor, probably less, you can get some great cover artwork created at a professional resolution ready for print.
But before you spend any money, don’t be afraid to show people your work for good honest feedback. I gave the first eleven chapters of Lost Souls to a children’s reading group in a school near where I live. I also gave them a series of questions for them to answer and noted things I wanted them to comment on. The kids really enjoyed doing this as a project. I intentionally didn’t meet them, because I wanted them to be honest. I communicated through the teacher and the feedback was unbelievable. I still have the pages with all the kid’s scribblings and comments on it - it’s fantastic. That’s something I’ll never forget and if I ever need cheering up, I pull it out and it certainly puts a smile on my face. These are the moments when you know you have something worth investing in.
So I would say, invest in stages and proceed through each stage when you’re confident you have something worth spending money on. Also, the worst thing you could ever do is over spend, so it’s all about investment versus return. You have to remember that not everything you write is going to be good, that’s just the way it is. Even the best authors have bad days. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write. You simply need to move on to the next. And there is no need to waste years of your life waiting for publishers to respond either. Sometimes we get so close to our work it’s difficult to see its value. Therefore it’s important to find out what that value is before investing your whole life and fortune into it, and I would also say that to you if you’re sending it out to traditional publishers.
How are you going to market Peachstone Publications – and to whom - and, as a self-published author how do you plan to market Lost Souls?
That is the big question and something all self-publishers will have to think about. Unless your target market knows your book is out there, nobody is going to buy it no matter how good it is. We’ll be using the web and all the social networking sites, but targeting children and teenagers (my audience) is far more difficult. We’ll be looking at school events and store signings too, but I feel we’ll need to come up with something a little more creative in that department.
The honest answer is; apart from the web, we’re not entirely sure how we’re going to do this yet. This is something traditional publishers do as part of the process for each book and possibly another appealing aspect of traditional publishers. But I’ve also heard they can do very little to push a book, so it’s a tough one to call.
I’ll take a rain check on this point and perhaps once we’ve been through it, I’ll update you on what worked and what didn’t.
A debate recently took place on the SCBWI-BI group list (started by yours truly) in which we discussed self-publishing and co-operative ventures. What is your view about writers and illustrators wishing to take the self-publishing route and choosing to work in teams or co-operatives? Do you think group collaboration is the way forward?
Group collaboration - that’s awesome. Why not? However, I don’t think it’s the only way forward because it won’t work for everyone, but I’m sure for some it could be great. If you have a group of like minded people, it’s better than going it alone. You can share costs and bounce ideas off each other. But the bottom line is, it’s still a business, so you must be clear on roles and who owns what. A partnership comes with its own challenges and it can end in disaster if not nurtured. Also, the goals should still be the same - to deliver quality content.
How important do you think it is for writers/illustrators to have a really good grasp of business in order to succeed in either an individual or co-operative self-publishing model?
I think they need to have a fairly good grasp on it. I often hear writers say, I write because I do it for the love of it’. And that’s fine and really important. But if you are doing it for the love of it, why are you sending it to publishers? Because you want your tome of love to be published, right? The thing is it costs money to publish stuff. You’re also going to be asking strangers to give you money and invest in you and your IP. And those nice people who are giving you money want something back. And that’s usually more money than they’ve given you. So for traditional publishers, the business side of it is really important and it should be no different for self publishers, it’s just a massively different scale.
It is a fun job, and it’s great to write stories, but if you want to make money from it, look at it realistically or it becomes a hobby and that’s fine if that’s what you want. It’s difficult for an author to tell how much money they should invest in it or how much money they will make from it, and that’s where the risk lies. If you’re considering offset printing i.e. paying a printer to print a large quantity of books, then you really, really, really (yes that’s three really’s) need to understand what you’re letting yourself in for because to me that’s says ‘I’m in it for the business’. A self publisher really shouldn’t be holding a large amount of stock unless you know for sure that you’re going to shift all of them at a profit. Not only does it cost a lot of money to print them, but the investment (time, travel, hotel costs etc.) required to shift them is also immense. It’s not really viable and it’s a huge, huge risk which can be reduced quite substantially. Do the math. You might just break even if you’re lucky. Lightning also offers offset printing if you really need it, so you can go POD and switch on a bulk order when you need to and the costs per book decreases the more you order. So really, there is no need to print piles and piles of books that will be used as a table that you hope will eventually sell.
Business can be a lot of fun. It is all about risk, but you have to believe in what you’re doing and manage that risk. So yes, understanding the process and basic business knowledge is important.
It’s very early days yet for you and Peachstone but what have you learned so far and what would you say to other writers considering self-publishing?
What I’ve learned…there’s not enough space here to write it all down. I think from the answers above it gives you some idea. It’s been exhilarating, bewildering at times and certainly eye opening. Going through the entire process from idea to finished product, hands on, is a lot of work. I would say to authors who are considering it, if you’re prepared to put your writing aside between projects to focus on the production and business side then go for it. Holding the final product in your hand is enormously rewarding and knowing people are enjoying it too is the icing on the cake. It makes it all worthwhile.
And finally, if Bloomsbury, Random House or another big publisher were to come along and offer you a great deal, do you think you’d be inclined to accept it, and if so, why – or, why not?
Of course. I would certainly listen to what they had to say at the very least. I’d be crazy not to. Again, look at it from a business perspective. You have to understand that traditional publishers can shift tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of books because they have the infrastructure, the money, the marketing ability, the experience, the contacts etc. etc. to do so. And like I said before, it’s very appealing to have a team of professionals around you to deal with the various facets of publishing a book. They would probably have to shift 4 to 5 times more than what I could sell as a self publisher to match my profit (yes, I said profit because it’s self-publishing, you don’t get royalties, you get profit), but that would probably be quite easy for a large publisher.
Having said that, there will always be a nagging voice in my mind asking…if they can sell them, why can’t I? What are they doing and what can they see that I’ve missed? But that’s the businessman in me.
There are also the foreign rights to consider, but that’s a whole new ball game and I’ll be looking into that in the not too distant future. I would love a big foreign publisher (or agent) to step right in and publish it in Germany, France etc. Although for me, getting it translated and published in different languages poses another interesting challenge :-)
Here’s wishing you loads of success in your new venture, Kevin, and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, and providing such insightful answers!
Thanks, Nicky. Look forward to reading you soon :-)
To find out more about Kevin Oxland and Lost Souls, please visit Kevin's website.
You can also follow @KevinOxland on Twitter.
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You can buy Lost Souls in all major retailers (you may have to ask them to order it to begin with) and you can buy it on Amazon.com and Amazon.uk.
And, of course, you can buy Lost Souls for Kindle.