Creating Editions

Aside

Editor’s Note: In creating editions my books are now published on Kindle or via Amazon for all editions

I am trying to decide if I should create different versions of my latest books to attract more types of readers as not everyone has a Kindle or other e-Reader, nor wants one.

For my first book, An Agent’s Demise, I have Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, and Smashwords versions. The ePub is also on iBooks and B&N therefore on any e-reader like the Nook. I am in the process of creating an Audio version via ACX.

For my second, To The Survivors, I dispensed with the Hardback, iBook and B&N but there are Kindle and Smashwords versions. The book is on ACX but I have had no takers for auditions.

For book three, The Persuasive Man, there are Kindle and paperback versions although I changed paperback format size. There is no Smashwords version.

For the two latest books, An Agent’s Rise and The World of Fives, there are only kindle versions.

All books are in English, (UK not USA,Australian, Canadian or other versions) although there are some dialogue elements in other languages. I have looked at creating translated versions via Babelcube and Fiverr, with no success so far.

So instead of writing new books should I take some time to create the missing Smashwords and Paperback versions? I used Lulu for my initial outings. Then I look at the downloads numbers from Smashwords or the sales through Lulu and think it is not worth the effort. Will audio versions be any more successful? Would translated versions be welcomed in non-English speaking parts of the world?

So instead I have written a blog about the decision to be taken. In the end it will come down to mood and how the creative juices are flowing or not.  Now it’s time to fire up Scrivener and see where the mood takes me.

Writing to Reading

Writing to Reading 2014

One of my work colleagues is a process improvement expert. He is a Six Sigma Lean Black Belt which surely as a title should be leaned as a process improvement itself. He can frequently be found drawing diagrams of processes and extracting critical details from our business colleagues. These details, decision points and sub-processes demonstrate where efficiencies can be made. I was contemplating him taking a look at the whole self publishing process, for my books, which strikes me as being in desperate need of improvement.

Let’s start with the basic problem. Too many books chasing too few readers who are willing to pay for the book. Economists would focus on the over supply or the under-demand aspect of the problem. To increase demand many writers have resorted to the price tactic of reduced cost to the reader, including free, to generate that demand.  Many marketing strategies emphasise the use of free to generate interest for other books by the same author. Traditional publishers have resorted to inflated pricing of e-books to protect the hard copy versions, much like the music and movie industry kept digital downloads more expensive than CD/DVD and Blue-ray packages.

The pricing and marketing elements and the social media excursions are all about launching or promoting the book after it has been produced. The lean methodology came out of Toyota’s factories i.e. it focused on the method of production.  Although the techniques have spread into post-production and anywhere else efficiencies need to be made. These techniques have led directly or indirectly to just-in-time supply, significant automation and other changes to the production workplace. Many American commentators often critique lean and claim Henry Ford should be credited with the methodology. It is not an argument I would wish to get into as I am not an expert on the history. For the purposes of this article it is irrelevant.

So what would a lean book production look like. Starting with the authorship. Clearly a writer drives a fictional story but let’s face it. We all suffer from foibles. Some writers are very good at scary scenes, others romance. Some are excellent with descriptive passages whilst others can create fabulous dialogue.  Clearly despite the inefficiency caused by increasing the number of writers involved, a lean book should focus on the allocated expertise of multiple individuals to create the book. The justification for the perceived inefficiency would be that more books of a higher qualitative standard would be produced in a shorter time frame. Not something that most authors would contemplate. Yet this type of authorship is common in the workplace – collaborative documents anyone?

Judging by the rumour mill several name authors already produce books in this way for traditional publishing houses.  Who knows if this is true but remember mainstream publishers are businesses not art houses. They want regular product to sell. They do not want to wait till the artist is ready, they have a production schedule to keep and a line of employees from copy-editors to marketeers to keep busy.

The next stage of the production involves the various forms of editing and proof reading. Starting with the authors own efforts (see above where each author could complete this stage). This process varies greatly from a qualitative point of view depending greatly on the skill level of the editors involved. There is a significant variable cost to this process in terms of production costs. An area that under lean should be ripe for automation. Of course if all the authors were experts in grammar, structure and spelling, then editing would be greatly reduced. This would require a major expansion of the processes to be studied extending our lean approach to childhood of the authors from learning to read and write all the way through the education system. Probably outside the scope of this article.

There have been major efforts in the software industry to automate much of the editing process. I think like most operating systems there is still a good way to go.

The next stage of production is formatting and then printing. (I will skip over the cover artwork elements) The new creation of e-books has been a very lean process, prompted by technological change. E-book production in whatever format and through whichever seller is remarkably cheap and efficient. What was once a huge barrier to entry (typeset, review, print review copy, review, print for distribution, distribute, book sellers sell) has been reduced to a few clicks of buttons. Even hardback versions can be produced very quickly.

With a finished manuscript and cover (if not using available default ones) the new publishing process can be completed in under an hour (excluding the seller’s review process) Yes there are foibles of the systems to be overcome regarding pricing, copyright and for Amazon the KDP Select or not decision. Then with the click of a menu item, the new book or a revision is launched on its way. Now here is where us authors need some real process improvement. That newly minted tome is just one of several thousand published each month. It is not only competing with thousands of other new self-published authors but also all of the output of the traditional publishers. That is of course just for books. In the entertainment industry it is competing with similar amounts of music and and hundreds of movies and TV shows for the attention of the buying public.

One of the elements of the lean process is the value chain. The value chain of any published book is long from the hours and hours of writing to the endless revisions and edits. Then we get to the sale. Prices in $ for comparison sake and because that is how Amazon requires prices to be set. Free, 99 cents, $2.99, $4.99 for an ebook. or higher. A new Blu-ray with two and a half hours of movie is approximately $20. Yes there may be extras, but how often are they watched and how often is the film re-watched. Like re-reading a classic book sometimes, but not often. Like most books are read, a movie is watched once.A full novel which should last a minimum of six hours is 99c or Free! We must be mad as self published authors to value our work so little. Even if the book is short, poorly edited and a rubbish story, it will still have some value.

So as a final reference to lean this should not refer to price but to process. The technology process has meant that we have a very efficient production and selling process. The pressure of over-production has created over supply which has been used to drive price down in an attempt to increase demand. I believe this process has failed as the buyer now perceives no value in the product. As the self-pub writer gets no return on their investment they cannot invest in the quality of their product i.e. editing or a better cover. Now the rant…

Amazon as the largest player you have created this monster by allowing books to be given away to support hardware sales of Kindles and other tablets. Yet Amazon has to provide the infrastructure (storage, network, billing) to support a zero price. A zero price provides no covering income for anyone. So Amazon and the others please ditch the free sale and its distortion of the market. It’s not free and puts no value on anything. It also massively distracts readers and reduces the quality of the overall product. I seriously doubt whether it actually increases reading.

For my fellow self-pub authors is your product really worthless, if not why do you price it as such! Being top of a best seller list cannot mean free as nothing has been sold.

For my fellow readers – how many free books have you actually read – was it worth your time. The reading process is not lean – it consumes time. Yes libraries have provided free books but of course they are not free – they are paid for in taxes. The books provided have a value – so should ebooks.

Will They Ever Change – The Price of Fish

Will they ever chnage – the price of fish was a reflection on politics in 2015

An old saying – It won’t change the price of fish.

It’s a deeply pessimistic or cynical view of the efforts of our government to actually make a difference.

The next UK General Election will be held on 7th May 2015. Between now and then we have a further By-Election which comes hot on the heels of the two on 9th October 2014. In those By-Elections UKIP won one and came a close second in another. It now has it’s first UK Member of Parliament (MP) via the First Past the post election system for Westminster. This achievement goes with its 24 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) elected under proportional representation. Before the next General Election it may have another MP. All this turmoil for the main political parties comes after the Scottish Referendum and poll ratings that should concern any political leader from any party, apart from Nigel Farage of UKIP.

In the usual dull analysis that has followed the By-Elections the usual culprit of the immigration debate has been raised as the main source of discontent with Labour, The Conservatives and the almost forgotten Liberal Democrats. The SNP and Plaid Cymru have their support in Scotland and Wales respectively as do the Northern Irish political parties yet UKIP has made inroads even in these areas.

Why?

My personal view is that this goes back to the the scandals before the last election i.e. MPs expenses and behaviour. I had hoped that after the scandal and the anger caused that there would have been a sea change in attitude from the political class and a huge change in representation in Westminster. It did not happen, of the 650 sitting MPs before the last election…

In all, 148 MPs (100 Labour, 35 Conservatives, 7 Liberal Democrats, 2 Independents, 1 Independent Conservative and 1 member each from Plaid Cymru, the DUP, and the SDLP) decided not to contest the election. Alex Salmond did not stand for re-election in order to focus on the role of First Minister of Scotland but the SNP retained the seat with a different candidate and a reduced majority over the Conservative Party. (Wikipedia)

What is still amazing to me is that 502 MPs carried on regardless.

Now not all those MPs had behaved wrongly in the scandal but they all followed the expenses regime even if they technically did not abuse it. I personally challenged my sitting MP during the hustings on his behaviour. Along with many others in the audience we pointed out that if we had behaved as he had done in our military careers we would have been subject to a court-martial. He apologised, stated that he had paid the money back, then got re-elected alongside his fellow 501. The old saying that the British Electorate would elect a pig if it wore the right rosette remained true, but might that change?

Despite the so-called expert analysis that it’s Immigration and Europe that account for UKIP’s popularity, I am not sure. Nearly every interview I have seen recently with actual UKIP voters explains that there is more than this. The words Westminster elite, which the SNP has used in its campaigns, are reflected in the comments from these voters. There is an underlying anger with all our current politicians. Their weasel words, their blatant insincerity but mostly their sheer failure to address problems. These problems remain irrespective of which colour rosette is in office or which white middle class male is heading the other white middle class males (one notable exception I know but she behaved no differently). It is no use blaming the school they went to after all that choice was their parent’s not theirs.

An example – I am a fan of Grand Designs yet in virtually every design the builder gets their windows, materials etc from Germany because they are the only country that manufactures to the right specification. Is it really the case that our manufacturing and construction industries cannot build a window frame to the right high-tech standard? Come on Mr Branson, Sugar et al or the Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs why are you not investing in this capability or do we really need another branded train/bank,sauce experience! Where is government in this, why can BT take public money for fibre broadband then only deliver it to the cabinet up the street. Why aren’t new house built with fibre to the property with solar panels built in and with those high tech windows that save energy. The old manufacturing centre of the North of England are apparently desperate for work so why would I have to go to Germany to get a descent set of windows.

Instead we have proposals for hundreds of thousands of new homes. Homes that are built to the same poor standards we currently have. Homes that will be plopped into villages and small towns with no additional infrastructure, no new schools doctors etc. At least when the garden cities were built this was included. Now adding an estate of 200-300 homes results in a playground if you are lucky.

I believe there is an underlying unease with the political establishment and those that report on them alongside the bureaucrats that implement policies so badly. There smugness, their unnamed sources reported and constant manoeuvring for their own gain. If we are to have a better election with better MPs then our media need to do a much better job, but of course if they are to critical then they won’t get the inside story. It is in no one’s interest to have a reasoned sensible debate. Instead minor differences are blown up into fake huge rows where no facts are present just interpretation of carefully selected statistics.

Perhaps UKIPs rise is due to protests on immigration, Europe or is it something broader. The votes that used to go to Lib Dems in by-elections are now UKIPs, because the Lib Dems in government have shown themselves to be no different from the rest.

As I wrote earlier I had hoped for a major change in attitude if not parties after the last election. Perhaps it will come this time round but somehow, after months of campaigning I doubt that it will. We will have a combination of white middle class men from the same schools and universities carving up the offices of state for their own fulfilment.

What we can all be certain of is – it won’t change the price of fish.