Friday, February 22, 2013

Breaking Out

Apples's iBookstore recently began a new promotion called "Breakout Books". It is dedicated solely to indie/self pubbed books, which will (at least for the time being) be a headliner when someone clicks on the iBookstore. Sort of like having your book displayed at the merchandise table that the customer first sees when they enter the bookstore.

So it goes without saying (or typing) that I'm honored that Painless was chosen to be one of the representatives in the Mystery/Thriller section of Breakout Books!!

But even if it wasn't chosen, I would have (grudgingly, while biting my bottom lip:-) admitted that this is a really good thing for indie authors, and another positive step in the quest to have a seat at the table where we can be judged on merit. Smashwords founder Mark Coker goes into great detail at his blog about how Breakout Books is an important benchmark in the ongoing seismic shift in the book industry, and worth a read I think.

It also gained the attention of the NY Times, which covered the creation of Breakout Books.

While I, like most indie authors, sell ebooks at numerous sites, I have a special affinity for Apple, since they were my first. Ebooks were an obscure concept to me when my first book Painless came out in early 2010, and my reason for even publishing my book as an ebook at the time was that I heard of a promotion that Smashwords had partnered with to provide free ebooks to soldiers overseas, which I thought was a pretty cool idea. In fact, I had such a low expectation of ever selling an ebook, when Apple put out something called an iPad that spring, my reaction was, why not just give it away for free and who knows, maybe I'll attract the attention of a couple people who will buy one of my "real books". Almost 3 years and 3,070 reader ratings later (4 star average) Painless is still going strong at Apple.

Breakout Books might be their first promotion (that I know of) that focuses on indie/self-pub books specifically, but I have always found the Apple platform friendly to indie authors like myself. Besides the obvious, which includes allowing ebooks to be sold on their space from the outset (taken for granted now, but a the largest obstacle facing indies for a long time. See: bookstores) and the aforementioned ability to give it away for free to build name recognition, one of the big things for Painless once it became a paid book was Apple's promotion of lists that were all inclusive to indie authors. The biggest example was the promotional list/rank on the front page of the Mystery&Thriller (see pic below) section called "Mysteries Under $5". Since most indies like myself sell our ebooks for under $5, it indirectly promoted indie books ... and provided an even playing field to compete with the "established authors" who chose to price their books under $5 (and I thought gave great credibility to indie books when they ended up side by side a popular author like Patterson, or a classic like Poe). This list has been a staple for Painless. Note: I haven't seen it in the last few weeks since the latest reconfiguration, and hope it returns soon!!

Apple also has shown other attributes that I found to be indie friendly. One is the rating system. No review is required, unlike some ebook sellers. As a reader myself, I often don't have the time to write a full review, or sometimes don't feel comfortable posting a detailed opinion, but would have left a quick rating of the book if that was an option. Obviously, a detailed review is a higher form of feedback, for both author and reader, but numerous ratings combined together can also provide similar credibility for a book - as I mentioned, Painless has accumulated over three thousand ratings (also has many reviews, but much less than 3k), which I believe leads to some readers who don't know me or my books, to take a chance on it. This wouldn't happen at review-only sites.

No surprise, but I've also found my Apple readers to be very tech and Internet savvy. This is very important to the indie writer who makes a living off of social media more so than book signings or traditional marketing campaigns. And while I haven't done a detailed analysis of this, I think the percentage of Apple readers that join my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter is much higher than readers who purchased the book from other sites. This is very important for not only the "spreading the word" aspect, but allows me to communicate new releases, etc. to that reader, which makes long-term  retention more likely.

A lot has happened since I got that first reader response from a reader who read Painless on that new contraption called an iPad almost three years ago, and I think "Breakout Books" is the latest example of the natural evolution of the changing book world, and once again Apple is on the forefront.