Monday, 29 October 2012

Merge and be Damned: Penguin and Random House

Apologies to Pingu and Spongebob SquarePants
News today that the Penguin and Random House merger is definitely on. If reports are accurate, the Owners of Random House (The international media group based in Germany, Bertelsmann) will own 53%, with Pearson (the US owner of Penguin) left with 47%.

In the month of Microsoft's launch of their Surface tablet and Apple's new iPad Mini, for the self-publisher the merger is worth noting because it shows the power of internet retail, and the strength of the world beyond the traditional publisher. This merger is a straightforward attempt to survive in a tough High Street climate where the legacy publishing houses struggle with strategies and structures built for a bricks and mortar age. 

In the world of print, change is slow because although, at its best, the industry carefully curates its output, in the end, business is business so Pearson and Bertelsmann need to make a profit in an environment that is changing more rapidly than at any time over the last 100 years. The last two years alone have seen astonishing growth in digital sales, reflecting the swift change in consumer habits represented by ipads, tablets and smartphones. It’s hard for the bigger publishers to keep up but the figures tell the story (information from The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch and Bloomberg Business Week):
  • The new merged entity, Penguin Random, will turnover 3 billion USD
  • Pearson annual net sales in 2011 were 5.88 billion up from  5.14 billion in 2009
  • For Barnes and Noble (the largest book chain in the world) turnover was 7 bn in 2011, up from 5.1 bn in 2009.
These appear to be significant numbers, and in the contained world of publishing, they are the biggest fish in the pond. But compare them to the broader, modern phenomenon that is the Internet, and they don't look so mighty:
  • Amazon annual sales in 2011 were 48 billion, up from 24 billion in 2009
  • Google achieved 37 billion in 2011, 23 billion in 2009
This is the market that controls access to the hallowed consumer.

Even more extreme, are two manufacturers on whose mobile devices the internet retailers rely:
  • Samsung Electronics sales were 150 billion in 2011, 124 billion in 2009
  • Apple reached 108 billion in 2011, up from 42 billion in 2009
For the self-publisher this is good news: as the market grows online so the opportunities grow. Promoting single titles into Amazon, Nook and Apple has never been easier (this is the liberated world of self-publishing). Quality matters, good editing matters, but ultimately the role of the bigger traditional publisher (whatever their size), so reliant on big sales to cover the big advances for the big celebrity authors, is rapidly diminishing for a great many authors trying to maximise their own impact online. 

Coming Next: Amazon Direct or Traditional Publisher?

Thursday, 30 August 2012

eBay Fees

Once you have an account with eBay, selling items through the website is very straightforward. However, some careful planning is required to help ensure you get the right price and keep any fees as low as possible. This post outlines the different approaches to selling through eBay and, roughly, how much it will cost. I met someone recently who sells between approx. £4,000 ($6200) every month on eBay, with total costs of less than 30%. Now that's a decent living!

Auction, Buy Now, Make Offer 

There are a number of ways of selling an item through eBay, all of which can help to sell it for a reasonable price. These include the following:
  1. Auction: This is one of the most popular methods of selling an item. It allows interested buyers to bid for a limited period of time. The highest bidder wins the auction when it ends and buys the item. 
  2. Auction with reserve: A reserve price can be set. This incurs a small additional fee, (generally between 10 pence and £1.30 (20 cents and $1.75) but prevents your item from being sold too cheaply. In some countries, there is a minimum reserve price, whereas others have no such rules. 
  3. Auction with ‘Buy it now’: A ‘Buy it now’ button can be displayed alongside your item, which often tempts people who really want to secure the item and would rather not take the gamble of losing out in an auction.
  4. Classified ad: Items can be sold on eBay with a fixed price. This is popular for high-value items such as a car or property. A fixed fee is payable, depending on what is being sold. 
  5. Make offer: This is often available with items that are listed for sale in a classified ad. It allows interested buyers to suggest a price to pay and wait for the seller to accept or decline the offer.  
Calculate Your Fees

It’s important to be aware of the costs incurred when selling an item through eBay. In some cases these can easily escalate and the final costs can be more than the profit you had hoped to gain from the sale. The fees depend on what you are selling and how you want to sell it. Here are the fees that may be incurred:
  1. Insertion fee: General items (not cars, holidays or property) incur an insertion fee ranging from free to around £1.30 or $2 (or whatever the equivalent currency of your country), depending on the starting price. Large items such as a car or property have a higher fee (in the UK, a car currently costs £10–14.99 and property costs £35).
  2. Buy it now: Can be included in an item for auction and usually costs 20–40 pence or, in some cases, is free. Exceptions include large items such as a car where a ‘Buy it now’ price costs roughly the same as an insertion fee.
  3. Reserve price: eBay charges 1–3% of the reserve price, although in some countries this is free up to a specific amount. If a reserve price is included, the insertion fee is based upon this value, not the starting price. In some countries, a maximum fee for the reserve price is applied.
  4. Sale price (final value): eBay charges 9–10% of the final value up to a specific maximum, depending on the country. High value items such as cars are charged at a particular amount. 
  5. PayPal: If your buyer pays via PayPal, then PayPal will charge a fee for handling the transaction. It charges roughly 20p or $0.30 per transaction, then between 1.4% and 3.4% of the sale price (final value), depending on the amount. In some countries, a fixed percentage is charged for each transaction. 
The Cost of Selling on eBay in the UK
Selling a collectible book through eBay with a starting price of £15 will incur an insertion fee of 50p. If the auction ends at £35, then eBay will charge 10%, which comes to £3.50. If the buyer pays via PayPal, then PayPal will charge 20p plus 3.4% of £35, which is £1.19. So although the book sold for £35, you will be paid £29.61 because the fees amount to £5.39. There are also further additional (optional) fees if you include more than one photograph when selling an item and use other selling tools. These are covered later in a forthcoming post.

Watch Those Fees 
Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away with all the bells and whistles of selling on eBay, which can help to tempt buyers into purchasing. However, it can become expensive, especially for low-value goods. Add together the cost of an insertion fee, reserve price, extra photographs, a colourful theme, the commission fee for postage and the 9–10% charged on the final price, and you can easily see the total fees exceeding 20% of the value of the sale.

Hot Tips
  • Carefully calculate the total fees for a number of different ways of selling an item on eBay before deciding which one is best.
  • eBay occasionally holds promotional offers where insertion fees are free or other fees are reduced.

There are So Many Ways to Sell Online!

Text is from How to Make Money on the Internet by Rob Hawkins (Flame Tree Publishing 2012). Available at all good bookshops, Amazon, and direct from the Publisher.

Coming Next:  eBay Planning

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Setting up to Sell on eBay

eBay is one of the internet’s most successful websites for selling unwanted, second-hand and new items, ranging from toys and computer equipment to bicycles and cars. If you want to sell your own items on eBay, there are a few things you must do before you begin selling, including registering and choosing a payment method.

Register with eBay 

You have to create an account with eBay before you can start selling items through it. Depending on where you live in the world, eBay has a website relative to your country. For example, if you live in the UK, then visit, whereas if you live in the USA, visit, and if you live in Australia, visit Some of these websites are slightly different, but in all cases there will be a ‘register’ button near the centre of the screen. Click on this to create an account with eBay.

Enter Your Personal Details 
It’s important to enter your details accurately and avoid any false information. You will need an email address that doesn’t have an eBay account connected to it. Choose a suitable user ID for yourself, which is at least six characters long, but be prepared to try a few variations as someone may have already taken the name you want to use.  Don’t forget to read through any user agreements and privacy policies to make sure you are happy to register with eBay. According to the registration web page, eBay does not rent or sell your personal information to third parties without your consent.

User ID Don’ts
An eBay user ID cannot include spaces or tabs, special characters or symbols (for example, £ or &), but can include asterisks, underscores, full stops and dashes. Your first or last name cannot be used along with email or website addresses. 

Password Pointers  
You will need to think of a suitable password to go with your eBay account. This will enable you to log in to your eBay account and sell items. eBay has some rules and helpful advice concerning passwords, which are as follows:
  1. Password length: Your password must contain at least six characters.
  2. Symbols and letters: The password should contain at least two of the following – upper-case or lower-case letters, numbers or special characters such as a question/exclamation mark, underscore or @ symbol.
  3. ID or email: Do not use your email address or eBay user ID as the password.
  4. Obvious words: Avoid using obvious passwords, such as ‘abc123’ or ‘Password’.
  5. Personal stuff: Don’t use personal information that can easily be guessed, such as your name, phone number, or date of birth.
Identity Confirmation
After entering your personal details and clicking on the ‘Continue’ button, the next screen to appear may inform you that eBay needs to confirm your identity. This can be completed by either asking eBay to telephone you, or by entering details of your bank, credit or debit card. If you choose to request eBay to telephone you, an automatic phone call will be made to you (landline only) and a four-digit verification code will be read out. You will need to enter this code on eBay’s website to complete registration. If you choose to enter your credit or debit card details, complete the relevant fields. eBay states that it does not use these details for any other purpose than confirming your identity.

Paying for eBay Fees

eBay requires a method of payment to be set up to enable you to pay for advertising items and to pay any commission and other fees when an item has been sold. There are a number of different methods of payment, which are explained as follows:
  1. PayPal: This has become a popular method of payment with a reputation for reliable and secure transactions. You have to create a PayPal account and either enter your bank, credit or debit card details. This will be used to extract payments or credit funds when you sell something through eBay. For further details, visit 
  2. Direct Debit: Bank or Building Society account details need to be supplied to eBay and eBay will automatically send a request to your financial institution to deduct any fees for selling items. This type of payment takes roughly 19 days to set up.
  3. Credit card: Enter your Visa or MasterCard credit card details online via eBay and payments will be taken each month for any fees incurred when selling items. 
  4. Cheque or postal order: eBay can issue an invoice and payment can be made via a cheque or postal order. Once eBay receives the cheque or postal order, allow seven to 10 business days for the payment to clear. 
Receiving Payments

Items you sell through eBay need to be paid for and there are a number of methods of receiving payments. These include the following:
  1. PayPal: All eBay sellers must offer PayPal as a payment method. This is a secure online payment method, which allows you to get paid quickly without sharing any of your financial information with the buyer. As a seller, the disadvantage of being paid using PayPal is that it incurs a fee  
  2. Cheque or postal order: This is one of the lengthiest methods of payment as it is best to wait until the cheque or postal order has cleared before posting or releasing the sold item. However, this method avoids fees incurred with PayPal.
  3. Credit or debit card: If you operate a business that can take credit or debit card payments, then this method can be used to receive payment for an item sold through eBay. However, this type of sale incurs a fee, just like PayPal.
  4. Pay on collection: Most sellers prefer this method of payment, especially where the buyer collects or the seller delivers in person. No fees are incurred via eBay for this type of payment. 

Hot Tips

Your User ID for your eBay account is displayed when you sell items, so choose one that is relevant and certainly not offensive.

Replace letters for numbers in a password. For instance, a password such as ‘London’ could replace the ‘o’ for a zero to become ‘L0nd0n’.

There are So Many Ways to Sell Online!

Text is from How to Make Money on the Internet by Rob Hawkins (Flame Tree Publishing 2012). Available at all good bookshops, Amazon, and direct from the Publisher.

Coming Next:  Sell on eBay Fees

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Planning to Sell Online

One of the simplest ways of making money on the internet is to advertise and sell unwanted items. But how much should you sell them for, when should you sell, how will the items be delivered or collected and who will buy them? This and the posts that follow will provide the answers. 

What Have You Got to Sell?

Before the internet, unwanted items were usually sold by placing an advertisement in the classified-ads section of the local paper, or by sticking a postcard-sized notice in the window of the post office or newsagent, or on the noticeboard of the local community centre. The internet has opened up a whole new market (a global one in some cases) and created a potentially vast audience of buyers. However, the first concern before you start thinking about selling, is listing the goods that you want to sell. If you’ve raided the shed or attic and found a wide assortment of unwanted items, note down their exact details and don’t sell them yet. First, it’s important to determine their potential value and work out the best way of selling them, giving thought to whether they can be delivered or collected.

The starting point for selling items is to arm yourself with plenty of information and knowledge about the best ways and best times to sell. Speak to any experienced market trader or shop owner and they will know what type of stock sells well at particular times of the year, who their customers are, and what prices these customers are willing to pay.

Deciding on the price you want to sell an item for isn’t always easy. You may have paid a reasonable price for a bicycle five years ago, but it may only be worth a tenth of its value now. The easiest way to fix on a price is to look for similar items that have sold and find out how much they sold for. Websites such as eBay allow you to search for items that have been sold by selecting ‘Completed listings’ down the left side of the screen. It’s also helpful to look for similar items that are currently for sale to help determine whether you should sell on the same website at a cheaper price.

New to Old
Sometimes, second-hand prices of equivalents may not be available, so it might prove difficult to ascertain a reasonable selling price. If this is the case, find out if the item is still available to purchase brand new and how much it sells for. In many situations, sellers calculate the second-hand price as around 50% of the brand new price, but check for versions, editions and updates, which may affect the value of your item. For instance, a first edition of a book is usually worth more than a later edition.

Valuable and Collectible
Where an item is of collectible interest or appreciating value, it’s important to arm yourself with as much information about it to ensure potential buyers are assured they are buying a genuine product. If possible, look at the same items for sale elsewhere and find the features that are highlighted in the description. Does it help to have the original packaging or specific accessories? Are there any serial numbers or manufacturer’s markings that signify a genuine item? Can you obtain any information from a collector or auction house to confirm a product is genuine and collectible?

Auction Behaviour 

If you can find items already selling that are similar to what you have to sell, it’s worth spending a few days watching the auctions. Look at the history of the bidding to see whether all the bids are placed at the very end of the auction. See how many different bids are made and, although you won’t be able to see who bids, you can see the number of people bidding. 


Selling an artificial Christmas tree during summer isn’t going to be as easy as selling it during the weeks leading up to 25 December. Whilst some goods are in greater demand according to the season and weather, it may be less easy to determine the best time to sell others. Expensive items that are not obvious gifts may be easier to sell if you avoid times of the year when most people have large expenditure to outlay, such as around and after Christmas and during July and August, when many people are on holiday. 

Timing and Competition
If the marketplace in which you want to sell your product or products is already flooded with similar goods, this might not represent a good opportunity. That said, you may be able to turn this to your advantage, if, for instance, you sell at a cheaper price than the competition and offer more features or accessories to gain a competitive advantage. For instance, if you are selling an electronic toy, but don’t want to offer a cheaper price than the rest of the similar toys for sale, include extras such as batteries and accessories.

Delivery or Collection 

It’s essential to decide whether you want to deliver an item you are selling or insist that the buyer collects. In the case of delivery, you may want to use a courier service or a similar service with a traceable delivery. This will help ensure the item is delivered, minimizing the risk of the buyer claiming they have not received their goods (which can affect your ratings on eBay and other selling sites). However, it’s important to calculate the cost of delivery and state this when selling the item, so you don’t lose out on postage costs.

Collection Capers 
If an item you are selling is simply too large, difficult, heavy or fragile to post, then it’s important to stress that collection in person is the only method. However, be prepared for buyers to insist that a bicycle, for example, can be dismantled and boxed for collection by a courier. Even if the buyer arranges the collection, you will still have to source the packaging and box the item. 

Hot Tips
  • Don’t try to make a profit on postage. Some buyers are dissuaded by high delivery costs.
  • An item can be watched on eBay by selecting it from the results listing, then click on the button labelled ‘Add to Watch list’.
  • Honesty pays. If you are trying to sell something that is defective, such as a bike with a broken chain, make sure potential buyers are aware of this.

There are So Many Ways to Sell Online.

Text is from How to Make Money on the Internet by Rob Hawkins (Flame Tree Publishing 2012). Available at all good bookshops, Amazon, and direct from the Publisher.

Coming Next:  Setting up to Sell on eBay

Thursday, 5 July 2012

How to Publish eBooks: Twitter and Linkedin. The Personal vs the Professional

Last week Twitter announced an end to a significant part of its near three year relationship with Linkedin (many news links on this include and Some of these stories are pretty technical and for self-publishers might seem rather abstruse, but they reveal an essential truth: the need to think carefully about how you use social media to develop your self-publishing brand. Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest can all be employed for different facets of your life and control the interaction between these different services.

On the basis that both self and traditionally published authors use social media to promote their work, at least for some of the time, it is important to think it through:
  1. All forms of social media are instant. You can post a blog and receive an instant reply, you can see an interesting tweet and immediately respond. No waiting for the post office to open, no irritation over early closing, weekend shutdowns, or 1970s style communications. BUT, keeping control is the key to making social media work for you, not the other way round.
  2. Personal contacts with true friends are different to even the most subtle forms of promotion for your ebook, or writing projects. Being true to your personaility and writing heartfelt social media posts are not the same as telling a friend what you had for breakfast, or whether your children are ill, or what your 5K running time was this afternoon. Real friends are forgiving and affectionate so you can be relaxed with them. 
  3. Professional contacts can be addressed in a relaxed way as well, but some caution is required. A visit to the bank manager requires a little preparation, slightly smarter clothes perhaps, carefully formulated sentences in discussion. Online, even a chance encounter with any professional contact can be loaded with significance.
  4. Twitter is used for both personal and professional reasons by millions of people. Generally though it's a swift form of interaction, reaching out to a global community of like-minded individuals. You can choose how to make it work best for you and mold it  accordingly. Some people have two accounts, one for their work, one for personal contact. The distinction forces you to be clear about what you say, when and to whom.
  5. Some also make a distinction between their use of different social media: Facebook feels more personal for instance, Linkedin is clearly professional, Google+ can be both, Twitter can be both. It is worth having a view about this. Once you’ve posted online your words live forever as part of your slowly accumulating digital identity
So, the separation of Twitter and Linked in interesting because Linkedin is a dedicated professional network, while Twitter is used for both the personal and the professional. Twitter will have their own commercial reasons for their recent action but it highlights the need to be clear about the nature of your posts. Twitter feeds will no longer be sent automatically onto Linkedin, but you can send your Linkedin status to Twitter. For self-publishers this can be used as part of the build for your author brand, because when you use Linkedin as the starting point, there is no confusion in your mind about how to approach what to say - it’ll be focused and professional, clear-headed and targeted to your market. 

By the way, you do have a Linked in account don’t you?

Coming Soon: More Twitter Hints and Tips and Why I chose Indie Publishing.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Writers on Writing: Ray Bradbury RIP

To start a series of instructive and inspirational posts about writers on writing I decided to begin with the pugilistic titan that was Ray Bradbury who passed away in the last couple of weeks. He was a massive personal inspiration and will be much missed by generations of readers. His classic Fahrenheit 451 still resonanates today as society shifts its focus from printed forms of learning and culture, to electronic mobile technologies. Enjoy this terrific video.

Coming Soon: Writers on Writing: Amanda Hocking and Marketing Advice for Self-Publishers

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

How to Self-Publish: Quality Matters!

Just found a blog by Dionne Lister, a self-publishing fantasy writer in Australia. The particular post that caught my eye (here) started by relating the (positive) real world experience of selling her own book to a Sydney independent bookshop. And it worked! Some chutzpah to add to her writing skills! But her real point was the need for quality in self-publishers because the shop owner was automatically dismissive of the poor quality of many self-published books.

And of course, we know that's true in many cases. The benefit of self-publishing is also the problem: anyone can do it! But I have a sense that the message is getting through. There is so much advice online, in blogs, forums, on Twitter, Facebook etc, that it's hard to write without bumping in to a blizzard of specific advice, all of which says it loud and clear: make sure your book is edited by someone who is not your affectionate mother/auntie/cousin.

I happen to be writing as fiction book. I won't bore you with the details because I'm not ready to market it yet, but it's 162,000 words long and I'm on the fifth and final edit (I've already cut back 10,000 words and deleted most of those nasty adverbs). It's been read by two literate friends/heavy readers and I've gone about as far as I can. Now I have to find an appropriate editor and suffer the humiliation of allowing an objective professional correct my grammar, sense and (probably) spelling. I have a degree in English Literature, I've worked in publishing for 28 years, I've written nearly 40 non-fiction books under various nom-de-plumes, so you'd think I would know what I'm doing! Well I do, that's why I'll find a decent editor to pull my text apart where necessary and improve it! By the time the book makes it to market it'll be as well edited as any traditionally published title. And yes, I am going to self-publish, either through KDP or Smashwords because the author experience through these thoroughly modern, quick-thinking, author-curating facilitators (ie not publishers), is excellent.

As a final mention for Smashwords, their style guide is fantastically helpful for all writers, especially those looking at ebook publication for the first time.

Coming Soon: How to Survive a Book Launch and Finding a Good Editor
Image courtesy of ima/