Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Nonfiction in Non-Book Form

Let's begin by agreeing that everyone reading or writing for I.N.K. loves books, obviously(!) During my career, many changes have taken place in the publishing industry, from big box bookstores to word processors to personal computers to digital layout and illustration. Recently all this ebook stuff started up...reflowable ebooks, book apps, subscription services, and other innovative ways to deliver "content." (Don't you just love being a content creator and/or a content consumer? Whatever!)

Anyway, I looked into a variety of options, put an o.p. title on iBooks, helped start a group blog about digital books, and spent many hours absorbing blogs/forums/webinars. One criterion is that I must have big, colorful visuals as part of my digital creations. It's fairly easy to have a text-based ebook up on Amazon et al without too much difficulty, but it's not relevant for my purposes.

If a publisher wants to do something ebookish with one of my published books, there's no additional effort on my part, probably. But if not enough is happening along that line, many authors have been seeking other options.

After looking into various alternatives and pursuing some, I've come up with these general guidelines for evaluating potential indie projects:
How long does it take to create it?
How "gettable" is it for buyers?
How robust is the marketplace?
And does it have to be a "book?"

In all the excited chatter about this or that innovation, rarely is the cost-benefit ratio mentioned. Sure you can do X, but if it takes months and/or thousands of dollars to do X, how realistic is it for a product that needs to earn its keep via actual sales? I can tell you from personal experience that merely planning an interactive book app (for example) takes eons, much less actually making it. Many of us don't have a lot of spare money or months to gamble away on this or that project that may or may not sell. Trying to learn some new miraculous tech-of-the-moment before it withers away may not be the best use of one's time. Perhaps some "old" technology may be perfectly fine and offers orders of magnitude less hassle. Not to mention that many more potential customers already have the reader or other software installed and they don't have to buy a new device, download an app, or learn a new program.

I'm not sure when the idea of getting out of the book "box" dawned on me. The question became: what am I trying to it a book, or is it information + fun? So let's say it doesn't have to be a book or a digital book-facsimile. Then what are the possibilities: a game, a play, a song, a video, a hands-on project? Without further ado, here's one nonfiction resource that I've made:
Shown is one part of a PDF that has printable posters, an informational text selection, charts, diagrams, student response pages, plus the butterfly craft where students showcase what they've learned about Monarchs. More info is in this blog post. I have no idea how commonly available this type of hands-on educational activity may be, but based on the feedback so far, teachers and students are enjoying it. And just about anybody with a computer and an Internet connection can download a PDF and already has a printer.

Other non-book nonfiction examples
Crazy for Similes is a book extention activity in PowerPoint format, another very common program that zillions of people have. This one is a freebie, and has been downloaded over 500 times in less than a month.
• A PDF related to my book Seeing Symmetry has a scavenger hunt, an illustration matching activity, various drawing, cutting, and folding pages, posters, and a real-world symmetry recording sheet.
• On my drawing board is a printable nutrition game related to an upcoming fall book, and nearby are piles and piles of scribbles about ideas from A to Z that I'm dying to work on, just as soon as I finish this book dummy for a publisher.

And what about that marketplace guideline? As far as I know, you can't sell PDFs on Amazon, or if you can, nobody knows about it. My stuff is too big to fit in a dinky little tablet screen (you know I love you, my iPad) and besides, have you ever tried to search for anything in the so-called iBookstore? Apple wants to sell hardware and software, but books, not so much. If they did you could search on "sea turtles" and have my sea turtle book come up, and a bunch of other relevant iBooks that don't necessarily have "sea turtles" in the title or subtitle. And, you could read an iBook on a non-Apple device/computer the way you can read a Kindle book on just about any device. Not to go on a rant, but seriously!

The marketplace that I stumbled over last year is TeachersPayTeachers. With over a million registered users, it's going great guns with just under $7 million in earnings for its sellers in the 1st quarter. The sellers are primarily teachers, who are self-publishing resources that they use in their own classrooms. It's intriguing and just plain fun to cut out all the intermediaries, sell for a lower price, and hear directly from people who are using your creations and who often make suggestions for things they need. There are other options out there for selling digital and hard goods such as Etsy, and other teacher-oriented selling sites.

The best technology in the world is useless if it's too hard for people to utilize, and without a good marketplace for people to buy and sell, nothing much happens. Who knows what the nonfiction ecosystem will look like in 5 years? I'm looking forward to watching it evolve and taking part. Oh, you're probably wondering about my sales, aren't you? It's definitely a learning curve to figure out what people will pay for. Let's put it this way...if all my items sold as well as my top sellers, I'd be a very happy author-illustrator. Just like regular ol' traditional publishing, you make what inspires you, put it out there, and hope somebody will want it!


Anonymous said...

This post is just perfectly timed, and I wish more authors and/or traditional publishers would pay attention to ideas like this one. I also see the potential of Teachers Pay Teachers to be an ebook marketplace that's easily accessible and useable to many folks. As a librarian, I think with a "site license" purchasing option, TpT could become a HUGE marketplace for new nonfiction "ebooks" or content or whatever it's called. Thank you for writing and for creating your products (Full disclosure: I'm one of your followers, so I'm also a big fan.)

Loreen Leedy said...

Hi Mrs J! I agree that TPT could be a great marketplace for ebooks and the site license would work for libraries (they haven't implemented that yet, AFIK.)

The "gotcha" as far as publishers and many authors are concerned is that there is no digital rights management (DRM). I worried about that issue but am hoping that most people will comply with copyright law. Since pirates can scan print books and sell them, too, maybe it's not worth worrying about. Thank you so much for following my store and commenting on I.N.K.!

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

Excellent update Loreen. As usual, your info about the ever-evolving tech world and the current problems with making and selling OP picture books as iBooks is spot on. Enjoyed the link to your blog.