May 10 2011
Greetings, Cool Peeps:
I’m very excited about my guest this week, Michelle Halket, the founder of ireadiwrite Publishing. Michelle is here to talk not only about her company, but about the ebook revolution and how it’s changing the face of publishing.
Welcome, Michelle. I know that you come from the corporate world and that you were a manager with a major market research company for over a decade. Why did you decide to start a publishing company? Had it always been a dream of yours?
Hi Molly, and thank you so much for having me, it’s a real pleasure! It’s true, I am more left-brained than right, my background is in business, economics, and market research. But, yes, this had been on my mind for some time before it came to fruition.
Tell us how ireadiwrite Publishing got started and how you have evolved to where you are now.
Well, it all started when I had a conversation with someone about how hard it is for writers to get published (I don’t write, but know people who do). We decided that it would be a good idea to start a portal where writers could put their works up for sale. There’d be no intervention on our part, just the authors offering their books as-is. So on May 1, 2009, we opened for business. I began actively searching out authors on Twitter to see if they’d be interested in submitting. We put up Google and Facebook ads. We had a few authors, but not that many and very few sales. As the months wore on — so many other bigger and better sites were doing the exact same thing, and way better than we were — Scrib’d, Smashwords, Amazon, etc.
So the next several months saw us evolve as a true publisher, editing, designing, creating the digital files, distributing, etc. Now, we are a full-blown publisher, we are very picky about who we take on — looking for driven, committed, and talented authors and we have expanded our distribution beyond where self-published authors could go. We know that authors can do it themselves, but if they want to work with a publisher, then we can offer those writers more. We still have a few books that remain unedited and in old formats – under our old business model — but I’ll remain loyal to those folks and keep their books – they’re still good stories and the authors are like friends who stuck with me when times were lean. We will edit and redo them; it’s just a matter of time.
What kind of books do you publish? Are you actively accepting submissions?
We look for any well-written book in any genre, but we’re particularly looking for creative writing — both fiction and non-fiction. We do accept submissions, but like you, we’re having to get more picky in what we can take. There are many good books that come our way that we have to turn down. Our roster is pretty much full for this year, so we’re looking at 2012 now.
Why do you think you have succeeded when other independent publishers have failed?
Oh wow, have we succeeded? I’m glad you think so! Kidding aside, I think we have a few things going for us. First off, is that we have had time – in many forms. We were willing to get into the ebook business when very few people knew what they were. I would carry around our books on my smart phone so that I could demonstrate to people what they were. We were also willing to wait it out, knowing that the ebook tide was rising. We also had time in the form of scores of books that were ready to go before ebooks really took off, so we had learned a lot of our lessons ahead of time, when hopefully no one really noticed.
Fortuitous timing aside, and to run the risk of tooting my own horn, I think I’m very adaptable. In the early days, it was just me, and I had no idea how to run a business, build a website, find authors, edit, create covers or the technical ability to create ebooks. But I learned, and when I couldn’t do it myself, I found people to help me. Our covers are mostly done in-house, and we regularly get compliments on many of them. I know good writing when I read it. I have also had the opportunity to work with several freelance editors who have brought quite a bit to this little company, as well as some of our authors, who’ve been patient enough to go with me as we navigated the waters. I have made friends who have the necessary technical skills and I use them when I need to. Because of them, I’ve learned a lot, and our ebooks meet industry standards and look as good on devices as the bigger houses. Twitter has been a wonderful tool – helping to connect me with smart, driven people who offer a wealth of information — one need only ask.
The publishing world is changing every day. How do you keep your business model up to date?
As I mentioned before, my own business model has changed so much from the beginning. Because of this, I learned early on from my mistakes and was able to adapt and I keep changing as I need to. That’s the beauty of a small ship.
I also keep up on what’s happening in the industry. No, I don’t actively follow all technical folks, agents, and publishers to find out what they’re doing every minute — that’s very counterproductive. But I keep abreast almost every day and try to filter out the less necessary information. I take the trends and apply what I know how to do, and once I’ve made a decision, I go with it and don’t waste time worrying about the mistakes I’ve made.
I also ensure I’m not constantly looking in my rear-view mirror or out my side windows — but forward – through my windshield. For there lies success.
Can you explain what DRM is to the cool peeps?
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and it refers to any technology used to prevent readers from sharing or exploiting digital works. DRM can apply to books, music, movies — any type of digital file.
I think ebooks are awesome. I think it’s fab that you can read part of a book on your Kindle or computer screen and pick up where you left off on your smart phone. That said, I hope paper books won’t disappear. Do you think they will?
Oh gosh, I hope not too. Paper will always have a place in publishing – but I do think it will have a decreased role. There will be folks who want paper and the market will serve to accommodate them. Much like pens and notebooks are still around for note-taking or letter writing, paper books will still be around. My guess is that they will evolve to become a form of artwork — anyone who invests in the production of a paper book will take the time to do it beautifully — or I hope so. The commodity that is the mass-market paperback will decline to be replaced with digital editions and the truly beautiful books will be here to be treasured by those who love them.
How do you think the ebook revolution has changed traditional publishing? What do the big publishers have to do to change the way they do business?
I don’t know if I’m a good person to answer this question. Like I said before, I watch what’s happening in the publishing industry, but I don’t expend a lot of brainpower on what others are doing or what they should do. There are many intelligent writers, agents and bloggers out there who say what they think about the industry and rather vociferously. I do know that there seems to be a lot of angst against big publishing; from unfair royalties to limiting the number of borrows a library can issue for an ebook.
Big publishing isn’t dumb. Those companies are run by smart, experienced people. But the whole ebook thing has taken off so fast that many people – even smart people – didn’t think it would happen so quickly. Now it seems like many are all in a bit of a game of catch up. And that’s okay, it’s okay to be learning and adapting as you go.
When it comes to the production of ebooks, the big publishers will be able to do a great job on enhanced ebooks, because they have more resources. That said, currently a lot of those enhanced books have a lot of bugs in them. But they’ll come along, just like everything else.
But honestly, I don’t sweat the stuff that any other company is going through, I have enough to figure out here!
I hear a lot of debate about how to price an ebook. Any thoughts on this?
Ah, The Question. There is so much debate on the 99-cent book. For ireadiwrite Publishing, the answer for a new book is definitely not 99 cents. And definitely not the same price as a paper book. So somewhere in between. Our model is that we release full-length new releases at $4.99. We think that’s a fair price for a professionally done new book by a previously unknown author. Shorter books get released at $3.99.
After the book has been out for a while, we drop the price to $2.99. We do have some books that were released before we edited and created good digital files and creative covers – those are priced at $0.99.
I have no problem putting books on sale for a lower price, but that should be a temporary price reduction only.
A lot of peeps make predictions every day about the rapidly changing publishing world? Any predictions you’d like to make?
You ask hard questions! If I could predict what would happen in anything, I’d be making a lot of money on Wall Street. Or as a psychic to the stars.
So many authors go nuts trying to write and promote at the same time. Any advice? What are the best and worst ways to utilize social media?
I don’t tout myself as a social media expert, but the biggest advice I can give for anyone is to treat people you meet in any social media the same way you would treat them if you met in person. When you first see someone on the street and you think they’re interesting or might be interested in you, do you walk up to them and start selling them something? Do you go on endlessly about yourself without asking them something about themselves? Do you use slang or shorten your words? Do you spout off about politics or religion? No, because it’s rude. So, do the same online. Be polite, remember how to spell, ask about them, learn about them. Then, once you become “friendly,” then they might ask about you and what you do. Odds are you’ll have better luck selling yourself if you come across as helpful, kind, and interesting. Selling books is really selling yourself.
Now that said, I’m not the expert on author marketing, but we do have an author on board who is — Deborah Riley-Magnus and her book on author platforms is coming in the fall. So stay tuned. How’s that for self-promotion? 😉
What do you know now that you wish you knew five years ago?
That if you are doing something primarily for the money, then it’s not worth doing and it’ll likely fail.
What do you hope to know in five years that you don’t know now?
How long is this interview?
I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?
The people I surround myself with. In both my personal and business life, I look for value-added people. Those folks who teach me, bring joy and evoke peace.
Any parting words for the masses?
Make the world a better place – create something. For writers, that means: write. Keep writing. No matter what happens – if only three people read your work – if every publisher and agent says no – keep writing. If you stop, you deny who you are and the world is a lesser place because of it.