Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Interview with e-publishing author Simon Kewin

When I read on Simon's blog, Spellmaking, that he had decided to publish one of his stories electronically, I wanted to know more about the process. He graciously agreed to an interview about the experience. When I read his answers to my questions, I was blown away with Simon's knowledge and expertise. And I'm sure all of you appreciate his broad-based and detailed information.

(Note: Read Simon's part with a British accent.)

What made you decide to publish electronically?

Simon Kewin: I was interested to find out how the whole process worked. There are these huge changes going on in the publishing industry - in the way we read books - and I felt I wanted to know more about it all. As it happens I don't have any sort of eReader device myself, but I know lots of people who do. I felt a little like I was being left behind. There are supposedly 1.5 million Kindle users out there, for example, not to mention all the other devices. But I had no idea how easy or hard it was to get my stories onto those machines. I'm a professional software developer, too, so I suppose my interest was partly geeky.

Karen: Are you on Kindle? Can you be downloaded on iphone or any other device, or only Kindle?

Simon: I'm on the Kindle and also on the iPhone and a host of other devices. I think eReaders are in their infancy and will need to get a lot better than they currently are. I'm sure they will. The Kindle seems to be the market leader but it's pretty drab isn't it? It's hard to escape the belief that the Apple devices - iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch - will become the de facto standard because they're so ubiquitous. But then there are all these other machines coming out too, such as the Microsoft Courier, which I like simply because it has two pages. You open it like a book and it’s immediately immersive.

The problem all these machines have is their price, I think. The price of the actual text of an eBook may be pretty low but the price of the hardware is way higher than it is for the paper of a novel. Obviously it's a completely different thing, but I'd happily take a paperback to places I wouldn't want to take an eReader for fear of it getting damaged or stolen. I'd be wary of taking a Kindle to the beach.

The other issue which has to be sorted out is the whole area of sharing. With conventional paper books, it's easy to pass along a book you love to a friend. I'm sure writers attract a great many new readers in that way. But how is that going to work in the electronic world where copying/pirating a file is trivially easy? You either try to stop people sharing at all via DRM (Digital Rights Management) or you make it a free-for-all and just hope that some of the people who get free copies of your work then go on to buy other things you've written. Perhaps it depends on how established a writer you are. Perhaps there is some sort of middle-way. I don't know.

What was the process you went through to get everything set up?

Simon: I used two different services : Amazon's own Digital Text Platform for getting my work onto the Kindle and the Amazon store and then Smashwords to cover all the other devices. There are alternatives out there but Smashwords seemed to me to be the best at what they do. They cover the iPhone via the Stanza app, the Sony Reader, Palm machines and so forth. You upload your manuscript once and they convert it to all the formats they support. They also develop their service actively so I was fairly confident they would cover new devices and platforms as they came along.

The process for each service was more or less the same : prepare your manuscript to adhere to a particular format, upload it, provide a title, a description, some categories, provide some cover art-work, set a price and click Publish. Each service provides a lot of help should you hit any snags. My own blog describes in a bit more detail my experiences with Amazon, for instance.
Both services are free to use, although they obviously take a cut of any sales you make.

Was it easy? Like easier than you expected?

: It was way easier than I expected. I suppose it helps that I’m a bit techie but I’m sure anyone could use these services without too much trouble. As writers we’re used to formatting our manuscripts in certain ways. Using these services is just a matter of formatting it in the way they need it. You don’t have to get it right first time; you can upload, see how it looks, then try again. It took maybe an hour to use each one. The hardest parts for me were coming up with the interesting blurb/description and then providing the cover artwork. Alas I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. Or, if I do, it isn’t one of the bones in my hand! So I just bought a stock image that suited the story, added my own text and used that.

To be honest, the publishing bit of ePublishing is the easy bit. The hard bit is in publicizing your work, in finding readers. Because obviously there are lots of people out there all doing the same thing and you don’t have a conventional publisher to push your work. I haven’t put a vast amount of effort into the promotional side as I don’t want to eat too much into my writing time but I dare so you reap what you sow.

That all said, I was pleasantly surprised that readers started downloading and buying my story more or less straight away without me doing very much. Not in vast numbers, but more than I’d anticipated.

Which works have you uploaded? Full novels or short works? Word count?

I uploaded an SF short story entitled The Armageddon Machine. Actually it’s more of a novelette at around 14,000 words. It was a story I’d had published once before in a magazine but it wasn’t available anywhere at that time so it seemed like a good candidate. Also, I imagined that people who like SF would be more likely to have eReaders but I have no evidence for that!

Karen: Have you gotten any feedback from readers?

Simon: Some. Not a vast amount. Both Amazon and Smashwords have reader review/rating mechanisms. The last time I checked I had some feedback on my Amazon page, which I’m pleased to say was good!

Are you optimistic about sales?

Not enough to give up the day job! I’ve had some sales which has been gratifying but it’s obviously hard to make much headway without putting a fair bit of effort into the publicity side.

Karen: Would you do this again?

Yes, I think I would. I suppose everyone has to decide for themselves about this. But I think there are grey areas in the strict publishing vs. self-publishing debate. Writers are all encouraged to blog, tweet and “build a platform” these days. As far as I can see, ePublishing provides one way to do just this. I wouldn’t ePublish a full novel, nor even an extract, but I might ePublish, say, a short story in which some of the characters of a novel appeared. That might be one way to build up a readership.

Will you continue to seek an agent for your other projects?

Definitely, yes. For me, right now, an agent is the right way to go for novels.

Do you think you will prefer this to traditional publishing?

Traditional publishing is still the main event so far as I can see. But I see both worlds coexisting and, no doubt, intermingling in all sorts of unexpected and interesting ways. For me, ePublishing is a way of establishing my name and building a readership rather than an end unto itself. Obviously, that may change. There are others who rely on indie publishing and make some sort of living at that. And good luck to them.

What advice would you give to other writers considering this option? How to begin? The pros and cons, etc.

Simon: Have a go if you’re interested! There’s plenty of help out there on the web, as well as FAQs and guides on the sites themselves. It genuinely isn’t too tricky to do this and it may get you somewhere. I suppose it all depends on where you are with your writing. If you have an agent and a publisher, then ePublishing yourself might not make much sense. I certainly wouldn’t ePublish something I was also trying to find an agent or a “proper” publisher for because I’d have blown the “first publication” rights. But if I was at the stage of trying to establish a name for myself -which I guess I am – then it seems to me there’s a lot to be said for ePublishing alongside conventional magazines and publishers. These are interesting times in publishing and I think writers need to keep themselves up to speed with what is happening.

Thank you, Simon! Wow, these are such great answers. I have nothing to add to this, I'm just trying to take it all in. I hope many people will read this interview and ask you questions here, because you are the one in the know. And I hope many will purchase The Armageddon Machine and enjoy it on their Kindle or whatever device they prefer. Awesome cover, by the way, Simon. I love love that cover!

Okay, folks, your turn. Any questions or comments for Simon?


  1. Great interview! Thanks for posting this. I'm going to have to check out The Armageddon Machine!

  2. I'm really pleased the British accent came through by the way ;-) Spiffing!

  3. Simon, I have no idea what time it is in England. Sorry if I posted this at midnight your time. Anyway, I'll leave it up for a few days.

  4. Karen,

    Not a problem. I think we're about 7 hours ahead of you but it's teatime here now so that's more civilised!

  5. Wonderful interview. I want to paste a link to this interview on my blog so I can read it again. I am considering going his route on one of my books in the future.


  6. Hi KarenG there's an award for you at mine :o)
    I will be back later to read the interview!

  7. what a great interview!! thanks so much for sharing this with us!! :D

  8. Great interview. Thanks for posting it. :)

  9. You're welcome, everyone. I really like how thoroughly Simon answered all the questions. I'll leave it up for awhile. I know it's a long post but it's got so much great information, I want everyone who's interested to get a chance to ponder it!

    Plus, apparently the post was invisible to bloggers using Explorer. Sorry about that! It should be fixed now!

  10. Hi!!

    Yay!!! I can see the interview in all its glory!! yay!!

    I am 32% into Simon's short story on Kindle and it is heating up, I can tell ya! :-)

    Lovely interview - thank you for this - it's a very brave writer to venture into the unknown and he has done so with such panache!

    Take care

  11. Great interview. Glad to you are finally back on my radar. I was getting a bit worried. Another book to add to my growing to read list.

  12. Great interview. Thanks, Simon and Karen.

    I read everything with a British accent. Got a bit stuck on the word "gotten" though!

  13. I hadn't realised it was so easy to epublish yourself. Though I understand what he means about the difficulties on the marketing side of things.

    I wonder if Simon would ever consider epublishing a full novel in the future and forgo the hard copy? Short stories do seem to fit the format now but I imagine with the developing technology things will continue to change.

  14. Miriam,

    "Gotten" was in Karen's bit so you need to do that in a Utah accent!

  15. Zoe,

    Obviously if there's an agent and publisher involved then it would be a matter of discussion with them. Right now, I'd prefer to be published on paper and electronically, but down the line, who knows?

  16. Very interesting interview, Karen! The agent I interviewed last month said that eBooks are going to do to publishing what iTunes did for the music industry. Great job!

  17. Sharon, It appears that everyone is waiting for it to happen, even expecting it. Maybe it will be the device-- Kindle hasn't yet. Maybe it will be the best-selling author or the big publisher who takes the step that washes away the fears. Fears like copyright issues as Simon mentioned, the end of book sales so what happens to those thousands of print books stored in warehouses, where do agents fit into this, what about royalties and advances,the distribution channels already in place for decades. I loved getting Simon's take on it from his perspective. Self-publishing authors should be e-publishing in a frenzy. If any aren't yet, I don't get why not. (Even though Simon isn't in that category, he was simply trying it out for a novella not being submitted elsewhere.) But publishing firms have more at stake and seem to be treading slowly into these waters. Publishing has always been a slow & steady business, based on tradition and not quick to jump into the next new thing. Not at all surprising that it was Amazon who first got things going with its Kindle.

  18. Great interview! I want to get published the traditional way, but I love reading these "how to" and "why" stories.