The birth of e-readers like the Kindle has led to an online publishing craze. ‘E-pubber’ Xavier Leret tells Roxelana about blog touring, chart climbing and why he gave 100,000 downloads away for free.
E-pubbing. It sounds like a trip to the pub on MDMA, a euphoric experience sipping a vodka tonic in a fluorescent pink glass. The reality may be more deadpan, but many budding writers are finding ecstasy in 70% returns on their sales.
One such author is Xavier Leret, author of Heaven Sent which has gone down very nicely in e-pub ville. As a result, the Anglo-Hispanic writer Xav is currently soaking up the glory on his own tour. ‘You go round and do an interview with book bloggers. Then they review the book and you can write a guest post.’ After years of posting his stories on blogs, he has only recently been eligible for the grand tour. In fact, he almost missed it… ‘I heard about blog touring just four weeks ago…I thought, “Fuck, I better get on the tour!”‘
Although his first e-book has only been out for two weeks, Xav’s interest in e-pubbing started 10 years ago. While starting his own theatre compaany, he began experimenting with self-publishing. His inspiration then was Cory Doctorow, the Guardian’s technology writer and co-editor of the blog Boing Boing. ‘He was giving all of his work away online so I started doing that too. I suppose that was blogging but I wasn’t really a blogger because I was writing stories. Then I stopped because I lost interest.’
He got back into e-pubbing as soon as the Kindle emerged last year. ‘I had given up the theatre to do an MA in creative writing at Birkbeck. I was watching all that stuff with the Kindle begin to take off. There were articles about how it was going to change everything and then it all went a bit bananas just before Christmas this year.’
His course tutors did not prophesy this state of affairs. Xav explains,‘They’re still caught in the old world. I remember having a seminar on the internet while there and it was a bit shocking really. It was experimenting rather than saying, “This is probably going to go absolutely ballistic”, not because books are dying but because the publishing industry is screwed up.’
While many budding authors have welcomed the changes, the publishing industry has been more wary. ‘They’ve watched it happening with music and film and no one has done anything to embrace what’s about to happen. The sudden rise of writers like Amanda Hocking and their sudden success has shook things, but it’s not going to destroy the industry in any way.’
For now, negative attitudes towards self-publishing are shifting. As Xav says, ‘What’s great about it is that it takes a lot of stigma out of going Indie and gives a lot of power back to writers like. The amount of times I heard writers say, “Yeah, my publishers made no effort to sell my book.” Well that’s because you have to do it yourself and if you’re doing that anyway why not self pub?’
Xav has elevated himself lately from story blogger to e-pubber authority. His e-book publishing and distribution platform of choice is Smash Words. ‘It’s great because it offers distribution to major online e-book retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Sony and the Apple iPad iBookstore.’ In contrast, Xav doesn’t rate Amazon so highly. ‘It’s a harder market to crack. Plus they take 30% whereas Smash Words just takes 20%.’
No matter the publishing platform, e-pubbing is about the popularity stakes. Writers are obliged to do the long slog of Tweeting, promoting, sharing previews and even selling free copy on Feed Book, the ebook site for Andropids, iPhones and iPads. So far, Xav has had 100,000 downloads of general stories on the site.
Another key to boosting your popularity is rating highly on the charts. Xav says, ‘There are loads of charts for every genre. I’m doing alright on Good Reads, which is like Facebook for book lovers. It’s great and you can get a score rating.’ Xav is also number 56 in the top 100 ‘user review’ charts on Amazon for Literary Fiction.
Once you’re topping some charts, you’re ready to add to your entourage of followers. Xav recommends blog networks. ‘The one I use mostly is bookblogs.ning which has the most users, around 11,000, and it’s growing every day. There are others but I don’t spend a great deal of time on them. You just migrate to the ones with the most people. Bookblogs has been doing me proud with good reviews!’
The main issue, however, is how to translate all this effort into sales. ‘100,000 free copies is good for my ego, but I want to sell the books.’ Since the Kindle, Xav has focused more on selling his books, priced at £3 each, than giving away. ‘That’s the main change. Certainly with earlier stuff I didn’t care about the reader, but now I work harder to make it accessible. So some of the really dark stuff ended up on the funeral pile!’
He’s also motivated to make it work for his family. ‘My wife can’t stand the fact I spend all this time on my own and I’m not earning large amounts of money!’ After his current young adult fiction book, he plans to write a book aimed at his children. ‘It’ll probably be geared to my eldest who’s 11.’
E-pubbing is a brave step, but clearly the potential to make sales is out there. The audience interaction and feedback also make it an exciting process with both highs and lows. These fluctuations are not driven by a little white pill, but the writer’s own sense of motivation.