stackpoletalkThis is my coverage of Michael Stackpole’s presentation on how writers can take advantage of the e-publishing revolution. Stackpole does charge for this talk (it was $8 at GenCon; he will be giving it again at DragonCon in September), and gives it at a number of conventions. It was a very interesting panel, and more than worth the admission fee. If you’re in the area of DragonCon, or any other convention where Stackpole is speaking, I strongly encourage you to go.

In deference to his need to earn a living, I will condense my detailed notes down to general terms. (Much of what he said was also echoed in the 30-minute interview he gave me on Friday.)

I missed the first 15 minutes of the panel, due to registration snafus. When I got there, Stackpole was discussing the benefits of Amazon to writers’ cash flow—Amazon pays 70% royalties (on e-books of $2.99 and up) and pays them every month, unlike publishers who pay a lower percentage and less frequently.

He talked about the need to write as often as possible, both to have new material available and to attract people to your older material. He also pointed out that writers should risk no more money than they have to on sale items, and not be suckered by economies of scale into buying some huge number of CDs or print-on-demand books or what-have-you and then finding they can’t make their mortgage payments.

Stackpole also noted that there are diminishing returns involved in trying to make sure your e-book is available on every platform. Between them, Kindle and Barnes & Noble have over 85% of the market; the time and effort involved in chasing the other 15% could be better spent writing more instead.

He recommended that writers learn to format their own works for publication, for the additional flexibility and lower cost. He recommended the program Legend Maker from, a $49.99 e-book formatting app for Macintosh that can create books in EPUB and Kindle formats. (In my interview, he mentioned that he had assisted in the development of the program, though did not benefit financially from it.)

While he recommends offering sample chapters for everything—just enough to hook the reader in and make him want to buy the book to find out what happens next—he does not think it is a good idea to give entire works away, like Cory Doctorow. Doctorow, he feels, makes most of his money from the Internet, rather than from his books. People who can’t do the same need to be selling their books.

(Of course, it’s worth noting that, as a self-publishing writer, Stackpole isn’t making all his money from his books, either, as the $8 fee for each of his several presentations at GenCon attests—even with the fee, this talk was very well-attended. I imagine Cory Doctorow earns a nice chunk from speaking fees, himself. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that; indeed, I’ve reported lately about literary agencies adding the sideline of helping their authors do just that sort of thing. This seems to be the literary equivalent of rock concerts from which bands earn more money than the royalties record labels pay them on their albums.)

Stackpole feels that the public perception that “you get what you pay for” means that 99-cent e-books, attractive as they might look at first, are effectively shooting yourself in the foot because you’re saying you’re only worth $1. And he does not think there is really much difference in sales between the 99 cent and $6 price points. “If you’ve already ponied up $500 for your iPad, you’re not sweating the difference between 99 cents and $6.”

In the last third of Stackpole’s talk, he went into detail about how to promote your book on-line, with many examples and guidelines. It effectively boiled down to creating an on-line persona for yourself, then being positive and interesting (nobody wants to read about how bad your hemorrhoids are this morning)—and never getting in arguments or flamewars. If you’re interesting on-line, people will assume your books are interesting too.

After the talk, Stackpole offered a $30 CDROM containing a career and resource guide for self-publishing writers that he had put together. (It is also available from his on-line store.)

And as I was chatting briefly with another attendee and mentioned I was from TeleRead, a woman came up to me and said that she actually read TeleRead. (I wish I’d had the presence of mind to note down her name from her badge. Alas, by the time I thought to do so it was too late.)


  1. “If you’ve already ponied up $500 for your iPad, you’re not sweating the difference between 99 cents and $6.” For one book? No, not really. For 50 books/month? That extra $5 adds up fast. Voracious readers are looking for price-points that allow them to read constantly; the $6 book goes on the “maybe” list unless it comes with a recommendation or some other history. And nevermind the people with the $500 iPads… how about the readers who’ve scrounged up $120 for a Kindle or secondhand Sony? Stackpole seems to think the ebook market is limited to those who measure their monthly entertainment budget in hundreds, not tens, of dollars. And, yes, they have more to spend–but a lot of people on the starving-student budgets will spend a lot of that budget on books. There are *no* studies about how much money is spent on $1/books every month. Mainstream publishers aren’t interested; the $1-3 book market has always been beneath their notice. Even used book stores don’t pay much attention to it; that’s the yard sale and dollar-bin market. I agree that the $1 price point is for advertising, not income; an author should have the majority of their books* at the $3-7 range. But a few books at the $1 level can draw in new readers. * Novel-length books. Stackpole seems to forget that authors have an option that’s never been available for print: single short-story sales, competing with novels. Charging $6 for those would be ridiculous.

  2. I agree with Elfwreck. I did a survey in early 2009 about my 2008 reading habits. ’08 was when I was just starting to have a sizeable percent of my purchases as eBooks… I guesstimated I’d spent or library-borrowed about $1200 in books in 2008. It’s that high b/c I have a 1-hr commute M-F, and my 2nd job requires me to be awake & alert – but not always with ‘puter access. So I can go through 1-3 books in a weekend, and 2-4+ during the week. Believe me, at that rate I cannot drop $6 a pop for a book – especially one that isn’t well edited, and can’t be traded or easily loaned (legally). In that case, I’ll take my coupon to the local bookstore & buy the $8PB for 4-5, when the eBook would cost me 6-8. My dad & I are looking to *re-purchase* many of our SF books, but the same-as-paper price for 10+ y/o books is causing a re-evaluation of that.

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