Monday, November 10, 2014

Calling All Writers, Current and Future

I decided to self-publish a short ebook about job searching for two reasons: the first was that I wanted to do something with what I learned about searching for a job from the 10+ years I spent as a hiring manager. The second was that I needed a test case to find out how much money, time, and effort it takes to publish and promote a short ebook once it is written.

I wanted that data because I'd been toying with the idea of publishing other people's books. After more than a year running Tungsten Hippo, my short ebook review site, I have gotten much better at finding interesting ebooks to read, even when they aren't high in the Amazon search results. However, I still see a hole in what is available. I want more short science ebooks, and more short ebooks about social science topics, and more short ebooks telling interesting historical stories, and more short fiction ebooks that really make me think. There are some of all of those types of short ebooks, but I think there should be more. I love finding a short ebook that can teach me something worthwhile in an evening or two, and I want there to more of them.

At the same time, I have been wondering whether short ebooks could help fill some of the gap left as traditional media downsizes and online media struggles to find a business model that supports in depth writing. I wonder if a revenue stream from a few short ebooks could help buffer writers against the rough economic tides, whether those writers are earning a living primarily from their writing or from something else.

So I've decided to go for it. I will take some of the money I make from the profitable part of my business (i.e., the consulting work) and invest it in publishing short ebooks. And by invest, I mean: I will pay the upfront costs (cover art, editing, ISBNs, etc) AND I will offer authors a modest advance. I will also give authors the option of choosing a higher initial royalty rate over an advance- for some types of authors, this will be a better deal. For others, the advance with an earn-out period will be a better deal. I think most authors will be able to figure out for themselves which model is better for them, so I'll let them choose. I'll also invest my time by doing a kickass job formatting the book for publication and by working on promoting the book. Authors will still need to do some promotion, too, but I will help line up reviewers and will be experimenting like crazy to figure out how best to market the sorts of books I want to publish.

I want to focus on pieces that are 30-160 pages in length (7000 - 40,000 words). Those are guidelines not firm rules. They are based on the definition of a novelette and a novella. I want fiction and non-fiction. For fiction, I am not picky about genre, but it has to be the sort of story that has interesting themes and makes me think. For non-fiction, I truly am interested in the "meatier" topics. I think there are several other companies publishing things like true crime stories now, and want to instead focus on books that make me learn something new and worth knowing. I would be absolutely thrilled to see people submit a short ebook about their research, as long as it is aimed at a general audience. I don't just mean science research, either- one of my favorite short ebooks is The Heart of Haiku. Science, social science, humanities... I'll consider it all, as long as it engages me and makes me learn.

In all cases, the writing has to be good. Since it is my money, I get to decide what good means, but the shorthand version is "well-written and compelling."

I know that short ebooks are a tough market, and I'm prepared for it to take a little time to make this profitable. But I do intend to make it profitable, which means that I intend for the authors to earn more than their advances. I have some (I think) cool ideas for new things to try to increase the market for the books I'd publish, and some even cooler long term ideas I can try once my basic ideas are working and I have a bit of a catalog built up.

But... none of this can happen if I can't find compelling stories to publish. That's where I need your help. I am looking for three things:

1. If you are already sold on my idea and want to submit your writing for me to consider, hooray! Please do. My email address is wandsci at gmail dot com.

2. If you're not sure, or even sure that you're not interested in submitting your writing, but would like to help out: I'd really like to talk over the terms I'll be offering with an experienced author or two, to make sure they are fair to both the authors and my business. Again my email address is wandsci at gmail dot com.

3. If neither of the above applies to you, you can still help by spreading this post far and wide.

Thank you!


  1. Fantastic! What a great idea.

  2. I think this is a great idea -- I'm always excited about things that make life easier for writers and help them earn money too.

  3. So what kind of historical stories would you find interesting? I'm a historian and always looking for ways to broaden my audience base, but I work on Europe and the Renaissance which can make it harder. What's a historical topic that makes you go Wow! I want to know more about that!

    1. Hmm, that's a hard question. I've read a lot of history and off the top of my head, I can't really say what sorts of topics I go for. A good biography is always good-- another of the short ebooks I've really liked was The Fearless Mrs Goodwin ( But I think stories about events or time periods can be great, too. I remember reading a really fascinating book about the plague years in Europe. Maybe look at the things you focus on and see if there is an interesting person most people don't know about, or a discovery during the Renaissance that gets overlooked, or something like that.

  4. I'd been RTing this but hadn't had a chance to come over and say: I love the idea, I love that you're going for it and it's got my brain ticking over. I've got about four false starts to a long form biographical narrative here but maybe the real vehicle it needs is short story.

    In any case, I have that book review to turn out first!

  5. I love this idea so much! I wish I had something to write about - if I ever do, you will hear from me :) Best of luck with it!


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