Indie Author’s Take on Google Play: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This article by Jason Matthews first featured at The Book Designer.

The official name for interested authors is the Google Books Partner Program. It launched in Dec. 2010 as Google Editions, then became Google Ebooks, then got engulfed in the massive Android supermarket known as Google Play. How would I describe the experience of uploading and selling ebooks there? It reminds me of a movie title: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

They actually sell ebooks. Over the past two years I’ve sold more with Google than at Barnes & Noble or Kobo. That was a pleasant surprise since Google doesn’t depend on book sales to stay afloat or make a dedicated device for reading as the others do. My prediction is for sales to continue to grow though I’m no Vegas-insider.

Purchases can be made in forty-four countries with ongoing expansion. That’s quite an audience. In thirty-six of those countries, authors (called partners) can upload ebooks. In twenty of the thirty-six, Google will pay partners with direct bank deposits (EFT) as is the case for North America and most of Europe. Otherwise payments are with wire transfers.

Search-ability is Google’s forte. They scan your entire document and factor that into the world’s largest search engine. I’ve tested this by copying random sentences from deep within my books and pasting them into a Google search. For example, try this sentence in a search: Mara reminded me of the pictures I had seen of Rose.

Google text search

Lo and behold, the Google book result appears at the very top of the list, and not one other retailer shows up further down. It also works with character names and subject matter, though for popular search terms you may have to scroll down a few pages. This is especially helpful for authors with rarer subjects or names within their books. Remember that Google searches can be tailored just for book results (though the example above is a general Web search).

EPUB files on Google Play support enhanced ebook features (EEBs) such as embedded audio and video. They also support fixed layouts and give advice on how to implement the HTML code for that.

Perhaps the best reason to publish there: less competition exists from other indie authors at Google Play than at Amazon and other retailers. Smashwords, a distributor that sends ebooks to major retailers and library channels, doesn’t ship to Google Play. Neither does Draft2Digital. The only way I’m aware of is to upload directly. This eliminates a lot of indie authors assumedly for the bad and ugly reasons listed below.

The Bad

Uploading there is challenging. It’s as if the book store engineers decided to reinvent the wheel without taking a peek at how Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords and other retailers handle the art of receiving cover images and interior files.

You’ll need to upload interior documents as EPUB and/or PDF files. Google recommends that you send both types since they offer two display modes: original pages and reflowable text. Providing the PDF will ensure that readers can view the book in its original layout, while the EPUB will allow a more customizable experience. Many authors are unfamiliar with EPUB, working in MS Word and uploading that or saving it as HTML Web Page Filtered. There are free and paid solutions for making EPUB conversions including Calibre, Sigil, 2epub and others. You can even download and save an EPUB file if you’ve uploaded MS Word directly at Kobo or Barnes & Noble, which they convert to EPUB for their devices.

Unfortunately there is no preview mode, which irks me. Amazon has an amazing previewer, and the others have made dramatic improvements in this arena. The only way to preview your book at Google Play is to wait until it has processed and then view the sample.

Price gouging at Google Play is about 23%, which means they’ll reduce whatever price you set it at. Remember to bump up your price by at least 23% or be subject to Amazon price matching to match their lower price.

There is little customer support although it has gotten better. An email to support leads to this automatic reply: Thanks for contacting us. We’ll follow up with you only if we need more information or have additional information to share. (Feels like they’re copping attitude.) In the past I’ve waited a week or more for a response. Recently I tested the service with an email and got a reply within a few hours when I included a screen-share of the problem, which is recommended. Tip: include screen-shares in correspondence to entertain bored Google Books employees.

The Ugly

Royalties are 52%. When comparing that to the industry standard, like 70% at Amazon, it’s a bummer. Of course you could always bump the price just a bit higher to split the difference. Not a great royalty, but still worth doing if more sales platforms are better.

It feels like a wild-goose chase searching for info to accomplish things. I’ve reread tutorial articles many times only to find myself back at the starting point, wishing Google allowed comments following the article that likely would help me solve issues. Instead they just offer a rating system if the article was helpful or not. To understand my frustration, play around at their Help Center for awhile: https://support.google.com/books/?.

Worse than that, it’s a serious chore to get the book’s description and author bio to have proper formatting, even using the simplest formatting. The description may look awful once posted as this one did:

formatting issues Google Play books

It appears the best way to make formatting behave it is to retype it on the editing page, which is annoying if you have multiple books and all that stuff is already written. For the 99% of us who want to copy and paste the info from elsewhere, it’s necessary to hit the remove formatting button in the description box and then manually re-enter the formatting such as for paragraph returns and bold type. The remove formatting button is highlighted in the yellow circle below:

Remove formatting button

I had to play around with multiple formatting changes for the description and author bio boxes, then wait about six hours to see how those changes appeared, then repeat until everything was acceptable. It took five days and over a dozen attempts, which is either embarrassing for me or a sign that Google needs to fix this.

Another ugly aspect, and this may be improbable, is the off-chance Google might dump the whole book program. There’s a trust issue with Google that doesn’t exist at other behemoths like Amazon. Google has scrapped plenty of programs as they did with Reader, Wave, Videos, Buzz and more. These dead programs are referred to as the Google Graveyard, and their numbers rise as Google experiments with software and the convenience of really deep pockets. My concern for selling ebooks is that they don’t make a dedicated e-reading device. In the past they had a partnership with the iRiver Story, but that device didn’t integrate into the formation of Google Play, and the iRiver has since been discontinued. Who buys Google books? My guess is people who read on cell phones and various tablets. Does Google really want to compete with Amazon, Apple and others for the long term? We’ll see. The fact that they are selling ebooks and making money on each sale suggests they won’t dump the program. But if they did, it wouldn’t be a shock.

The Verdict

What kind of author should upload to Google Play? Those willing to go the extra mile, knowing it’s a bit more technical, less intuitive, far more annoying, and the risk/rewards are still embedded in a gray area. Selling ebooks there may turn out to be a prosperous alternative or a total waste of time. (Sadly, I just described myself.) If you’re interested in getting started, visit this link: https://play.google.com/books/publish/signup.

And if you have any advice or comments, as always please share them in the comments.


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Story HD is Google E-Reader, Good Business?

iriver Story HDA couple of weeks ago, Google finally released its e-reading device, or more accurately, someone else’s e-reading device, and you may have already seen it over the months while browsing the shelves at a local Target. It’s the Story HD by iriver, uses e-ink technology and retails for $139.99. That’s a comparable price to the latest Kindle ($139) and less than the WiFi plus 3G Kindle at $189. (Story HD currently has no 3G option, and newer Kindles should be released soon.)

Perhaps some of us were expecting Google to actually build its own device from scratch, but this partnership with iriver makes pretty good sense. The company has been around for twelve years making MP3 playing devices and similar products, recently adding e-readers to its menu with the first generation Story. The Story HD is the latest version, although it looks primitive compared to recent Nook models and Kobo readers. The iriver company also has a soon to be released touch screen version called the Cover Story (image below). They look like fine products for the price. The Story HD has a full QWERTY keyboard, 16 adjustable grayscale factors,  and boasts a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 . The Kindle’s is just 800 x 600. The difference means the Story has a pixel density of 213 while the Kindle’s is 167 pixels per inch. Will that make a big difference to readers? Probably not much as reading text is what most people do, and that pixel difference will be less noticeable for text than for images. Also brand loyalty seems pretty entrenched, so Kindle or Nook owners are unlikely to jump off their bandwagons just for clearer picture books and cover images.

iriver Cover StoryEarly reports are that its functionality is quite comparable to any e-reading device in terms of battery life, processor speeds and memory, but the usability is a bit inferior to the Kindle or Nook. Story HD has letter keys like small slivers instead of the rounded Kindle letters. There is also no side bezel button for turning pages, by far the most common action required with e-readers and a comfortable place for fingers. Instead the Story HD has page turning abilities beneath the screen, which sounds like a tad more of a challenge. (Oh are we really that lazy?)

What iriver does have going for it is a partnership with Google, a major player in the market with over 3 million titles already in the Google eBookstore. Although, Nook and Kobo (and others) can read epub books via Google’s store, so it may not be enough to generate sales in numbers that really matter. As an Indie author who doesn’t have much respect for the way Google handles Indie authors and their uploading process, some skepticism remains in me whether this will make much of a splash in an already crowded market for not only Kindle or Nook, but Kobo, Sony, iPad, other tablets and e-readers and even other devices like cell phones.

One thing for sure, this industry never rests.

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Typos in Amazon Kindle Ebooks!

Typos in Amazon Kindle EbooksJust read an old favorite on Amazon Kindle, Dan Millman’s WAY OF THE PEACEFUL WARRIOR: A Book That Changes Lives.

What a great book to re-visit, but holy cow, there were a ton of typos. We’re not talking a few but dozens and dozens of glaring ones. How can a former international bestseller, a professionally agented, edited and published book have so many typos? Mind-scratcher.

For all the indie author self-publishers out there, this is the number one complaint from Kindle readers: typos. And it’s clearly not limited to the small guys. Big publishers also make mistakes or have conversion issues from print to electronic document, so don’t fall into the same traps.

What to do? It’s really hard to see them all yourself especially on the computer screen. For some reason, it’s much easier to see them in print or in someone else’s work. Even English majors can read the same paragraph over and over and miss their own glaring typos, so if a professional editor isn’t in the budget you must have at least a half-dozen people (hopefully brutally honest strangers from solid critique groups) read your manuscript. If any of the readers are friends and family, let them know they will only be doing you a favor by pointing out anything and everything they find, even if they don’t like certain parts or the book in general. Writers need thick skin to make books better. Get rid of the typos (and other issues) so yours will be way ahead of the average indie book.

  • Use spell check, even if it means spending a whole day going through the manuscript and ignoring things like fragmented sentences spell check so annoyingly points out. (Can that be turned off?) It’s incredible that some indie authors don’t pay attention to basic spell check.
  • Get involved with good critique groups like at Goodreads, RedRoom, Authonomy, Yahoo Critique groups or elsewhere. Savvy readers can typically identify problems in the first chapters that are likely to be repeating patterns throughout your book. Fix the problems early on and apply the lessons from there.
  • Hire a pro-editor if you can. It’s amazing what a good one can do. The forums listed above are good places to ask around. Get recommendations from other writers too.

Once you do finally upload to Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook, remember that there is a Preview option to see what it looks like before publication. Might as well read at least ten pages checking for any typos or odd conversion glitches. If you don’t find any after ten pages, chances are you won’t have dozens of them the rest of the way.

Your thoughts or comments?


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Google Ebooks, Process This!

Google ebooksI’ve been trying to sell ebooks on Google since they opened their retail store, and it has been bizarre to say the least. While I do have three titles that eventually processed and are in the store, two titles are still “processing” weeks later. One of those has been “processing” for two full months! Unbelievable.

What to do about it? Customer support is entirely non-existent. They simply don’t reply to emails, even pleasant ones, like Amazon Kindle support does.

Also, with the other retailers, if an upload is having trouble processing, you simply try it again or another document and the first version is immediately replaced. What a concept! At Google ebooks, this is not an option as your upload becomes locked and forces the author to watch and wait its progression or non-progression in some cases. Why? Why did those Stanford grads have to re-invent the wheel and get it wrong when everything had already been made properly for them to copy?

So far in my vast self-publishing experience, Google Ebooks is by far the worst venue to sell ebooks. There is only one teenie-weenie bright spot to the whole place, and that’s the fact they have something unique; an ad revenue thing which has earned me about 10 bucks in ads even though they haven’t sold any ebooks yet. Woo-hoo. That brings them up from a D-minus to a solid D grade in my opinion.

If you want to self-publish; definitely do Amazon Kindle, Pubit by Barnes&Noble, Apple (if you have a Mac), and Smashwords with the opt-in for every major retailer. Also you should give free samples and sell from your own website and/or blog. Should you also do Google Ebooks? I dunno, maybe.

Hey Google, process this! (as if they care)


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Google Ebookstore, Bugs a plenty

Google Ebookstore logoIt’s been 6 weeks since I uploaded most of my books to the Google Ebookstore. While it’s nice to have another venue to sell ebooks from, so far this has been the least user-friendly and most bug-filled retailer. Though I still have confidence that the king of search (and just about everything online) will get its act together, here is a list of issues encountered so far:

  • My books don’t come up with an exact title or author search. This is a serious concern. For instance, go to http://books.google.com/ebooks and type into the search box How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free (copy and paste makes that easy) or Jason Matthews. If the experience is the same as mine, you won’t find my books listed. Yep, that’s bad. I know the book truly exists there because one reader fortunately purchased a copy and the link is here – http://books.google.com/books?printsec=frontcover&id=ApOKNfx7QckC#v=onepage&q&f=false.
  • One of my titles has been “processing” for 6 weeks. I’ve given up on it going through and would have deleted it and tried again, but instead would rather watch this spectacle and see how long it continues. The other books “processed” between two days and two weeks. Really? Why so long?
  • Support is virtually non-existent. I’ve sent a few emails explaining the situation without complaining and have only received one quasi-reasonable reply a week later. The others were either not answered or replied in a way that demonstrated they didn’t understand the above two points. Long story short, they don’t appear to care at support.
  • The entire way they handle uploading is about twice as difficult as anywhere else. Why did they make it tricky, especially when others have set examples of how to do it easy? No need to reinvent the wheel, Stanford grads. Go upload your Dilbert collections to Amazon or Smashwords and see how streamlined the experience can be.

So far the Google Ebookstore receives a grade of “D plus,” but I still have hopes they can turn it around. One small thing I really do like is the 2 bucks in ad revenue I’ve made (woo-hoo) even though my books can’t be found. Just imagine the possibilities once the bugs are crushed.

More results in time. Subscribe to this blog for updates on whatever I learn for those who want to sell ebooks.
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Update Jan. 20th – some (not all) of my books are showing up with a search now, even though they didn’t for weeks. Okay, that’s a little better.

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