The Grand Conversation on ebooks: Amy Shojai

Amy Shojai CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant and author of 23 pet care titles. She also writes for cats.About.com and AOL’s Paw Nation, and appears as an expert on Animal Planet’s CATS-101, and DOGS-101. She lives in Texas with a Siamese wannabe and a smart-aleck German shepherd. Thus far, she’s Kindle-ized five of her backlist books including Complete Care for Your Aging Cat.

Amy’s story is fascinating. She confirms something I’ve always suspected: free information on the internet is putting non-fiction writers such as Amy out of business. However, the ebook revolution has given Amy’s writing career a new lease on life, proving once again that readers prefer easy (they can download her knowledge onto a Kindle with a couple of clicks) over free (hunting up the same knowledge from disparate – and often unreliable – sources on the web).

Here’s Amy’s story:


“HISS & TELL—A Nonfiction Author’s Kindle-ization Journey”

As a non-fiction author and journalist, I come from the world of traditional print publishing. I never thought anything could take the place of newspapers and magazines, and I wrote boatloads of articles and columns before I realized a book was the same amount of work but paid better. Duh. After the first six books, I signed with a high-powered agent, and my pet writing dreams took off.

I can hear other writers snickering—“Pet writing? Are you kidding?!” Folks, this was in the days of 6-figure advances, spokesperson tours with major pet food companies, and multi-book deals. I ain’t a-woofin’ you (as they say here in Texas).

So what happened? Internet and Google. Hisssssssssss!

For me and many successful non-fiction writers, the Internet burst our personal publishing bubble. Why should someone buy my veterinary medical pet care book when they can read the information for free? And if readers get what they want online, why should editors buy my latest proposal?

Never mind that the free advice of the inane self-proclaimed Internet expert du jour injures or even kills cats and dogs — hey, it’s free! New books won’t sell unless they’re written by that expert du jour with a YouTube cat-in-a-box million page views. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marley & Me, but that’s not what I write. And if a great old first-aid book is still in print and selling, it’s too expensive to update to the latest, most helpful scientific breakthroughs. Grrrrrr!

For a short, painful time (illustrated by the head-shaped dent in my office wall), I gave up. Many folks would kill to have had the run I did, right? I should be grateful and learn to knit. But there’s a reason I own and frequently wear a sparkly rhinestone #1-Bitch pin. It took me twenty years to earn that pin, and this old cat has a few more lives left to spend. Writing isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.

After 23 books, I thought that I’d be living off my backlist by this point. Why not make it happen myself? At the least, a revised and updated version of an award-winning book would keep my name fresh and maybe earn some gas money. Besides, I suck at knitting. So ten months ago, I jumped off the Ebook cliff and began swimming in the Kindle-pond.

Turns out the water was danged frigid, at first, especially for non-fiction book manuscripts. Fiction authors (for the most part) deal simply with text. Nonfiction books rely a bit more on formatting with photos, tables, sidebars, bullet points, TOC, index, and all the other value-added crappiocca that POOF! goes away when translated into HTML-coding and suchlike computeristic mumbo-jumbo. Translating cat and dog behavior makes more sense, believe me! It took some hoop-jumping and searches of the Internet and Google (spit!) to figure it out. I documented the boring how-to in my Redroom.com blog. Bottom line, if I can do it with a non-fiction book, anyone can with text-only fiction.

Once the first book was Kindle-ized, the waters warmed. I’d already been paid well for my books, and I didn’t expect to make money. I just wanted to keep good info out there. So I priced the book low, just to see what happened.

Surprise! the Kindle-ization of the first book not only sold, it sold well. So did the second. I raised the price to $5.99, and sales increased. I’m slowly making my way through the backlist, now priced at less than half of the original print versions and making more per book than the first time around.

Then I got really smart — and fortunate. I’ve partnered with other authors at WhoDaresWinsPublishing.com, to bring our combined backlist into new life on all Ebook platforms and POD via Ingram’s Lightning Source. I suspect other groups of savvy authors also can benefit by pooling resources.

Once my backlist is reborn, I’ll release originals, too. For non-fiction, the traditional 18-24-month wait from acceptance to print can mean information is out of date even before it’s published. Self publishing offers more immediacy, and I have the contacts to get content professionally vetted (pun intended!) prior to publication and reach my audience effectively.

For the first time, I feel in control of my own work. I’m even using Facebook, Twitter, blogging, the Internet and Google (spit!) to make it a success. Would I consider publishing the traditional New York route again? Make me an offer, and we’ll talk.


Amy Shojai’s non-fiction pet books on Kindle include Complete Care for Your Aging Cat and Complete Care for Your Aging Dog.


The Grand Conversation on ebooks will run here at www.jiraiya.com.au until February 28. If you’d like to contribute a guest blog post, email me at shane@jiraiya.com.au.

4 Comments

  1. Shane, thanks so much for the opportunity to show my claws a bit. *s* I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts. Great discussion!

  2. Still working up courage to try it with my classic The Tibetan Spaniel: A Gift from the Roof of the World but it’s an intimidating prospect. Thanks for the encouragement, Amy.

  3. I’m standing on the edge of the pool but with this great information I feel better about jumping in – at least in the shallow end for now. Thanks, Dianne

  4. […] So what happened? Internet and Google. Hisssssssssss! Read the rest of my guest blog on the Grand Conversation about Ebooks over at Shane Jiraiya Cummings site. […]

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