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Writing Wednesdays with Michael Haase: Interview with Jeremy Thomas, CEO of inkshares.com

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Modern aspiring authors typically believe they have only two options for publication: land a publishing deal or self-publish. inkshares.com provides an exciting new option: crowdfunding your work.

Basically, Inkshares is a company that provides a democratic process for readers and other authors alike to "vote" for which books they wish to see published by pre-ordering a copy. Once enough pre-orders are attained, the author gets their book published. It is a new, creative, and exciting pathway for authors to have their work exposed to an ever-expanding network of fellow authors and readers, network, and learn about self-marketing.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Jeremy Thomas, CEO of Inkshares, in order to get to know him, his hopes for Inkshares' future, and to gain insight as to how Inkshares works.

What is your personal background in writing? Have you been published?

I co-authored a McGraw Hill book called "Enterprise 2.0 Implementation." So, I have empathy with what it is for an author to go through the publishing process. Thinking back to my writing experience with that book, what's interesting is that I get to say "I'm a published McGraw Hill author." But what I don't say is that I didn't earn out my $6,000 advance, and that the book barely sold 2,000 copies. You see, no reader walks into a bookstore wondering what McGraw Hill has published lately. To the reader, the author is all that matters.

What is your favorite memory in the Inkshares story thus far?

My favorite memory has to be when our first book, The Cat's Pajamas, arrived in our office. We used that book to disambiguate the Chinese printing and shipping process. And it was chaotic. The book arrived in US waters only to be stuck in a boat off the coast of Long Beach for 3 weeks due to a ship-worker's strike. That put us very close to our drop-dead date for distribution to bookstores. The second problem was that once the strike ended, all of the books were shipped to our office. We normally take only about 10% of a print run, and have the rest sent to our distributor's warehouse in Pennsylvania. So, here we were unloading palettes of The Cat's Pajamas in the middle of downtown San Francisco. We had to truck them over to a FedEx office so we could send the 90% of them to our distributor's warehouse in time for the publish date. Here's a photo of that day:

(Pictured from left to right: Adam Gomolin, Thad Woodman, and Jeremy Thomas)

Do you have any personal plans to put out a novel through Inkshares?

I had a born-again Christian experience when I was 15 years old. I spent the next 5 years proselytizing, playing in church bands, and leading Bible studies. But I ran into some intellectual and experiential problems I just couldn't get around (mostly related to determinism), and fell out of faith. But I'm fascinated by the notion of God, and by the holy-shit-how-did-we-get-here rabbit hole that I let my mind wander into from time to time. So I've been kicking around this book idea called "Empirical" where empirical evidence surfaces that God is real. I think societal ramifications of such an event would be profound, and a lot could be done with a story like this. So, once Inkshares settles down, I might settle down and put a few chapters together.

What do you think Inkshares can teach authors about self-marketing?

Our software gathers statistics about the efficacy of promotional channels which can be used to help authors which are most effective. One-to-one email, for example, has a much higher conversion rate than one-to-many. But more importantly, Inkshares has seen a community organically develop around reciprocal altruism. Authors help each other by providing feedback on manuscripts, or by promoting books into their network. And all of this is genuine, which is perhaps the most important lesson. No one wants to listen to an author promote herself all day. People will give back after the author has given to them without trying to sell something. This is the biggest secret to self-promotion I know of. It's almost "self-not-promotion."

Readers are an obviously integral part of the success of Inkshares. How does Inkshares provide an improved reader experience when compared with other methods of publishing?

The reader experience on Inkshares is similar to that on Medium or Atavist. But the majority of our readers (80%) are reading physical Inkshares books. The industry has seen print-book sales start to eat away at ebook sales for the first time. Print-book sales comprise about 65% of the total publishing market, and it's our belief that any publisher that's serious about creating a good reading experience has to print books.

What do you see for the future of Inkshares?

I see Inkshares becoming a serious competitor to prominent self-publishing options like KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Most of the authors we attract are ones who would otherwise consider self-publishing. But I also think we'll see some major defectors publish with us. Imagine, for a moment, someone like Steven King doing an Inkshares book. He'd pre-fund in less than a day, and he'd make 2X-5X per copy when compared with a NY-based publisher (but he wouldn't get an advance). I think we'll need to publish a NYT-best-seller before we see any major defectors, though. And I think we'll see that happen next year. I think we might also look into applying technological solutions to streamline the sale of derivative rights. There are 4 intermediaries involved in selling the Hungarian-language rights to a book, for example. There's no reason why an auction-like system can't dis-intermediate the process.

Do you see any future in audiobooks or other types of media on Inkshares?

Audiobooks represent less than 1% of total sales in the publishing industry. But we know that when a reader sees a book has an audio version, he becomes more inclined to buy the electronic or physical version. The presence of the audiobook is interpreted as a sign of quality. Inkshares actually negotiates the sale of audiobooks with other companies. We've sold the audio rights for one of our titles to Penguin Random House, and two others were sold to Audible. And this will likely be our strategy for some time to come.

Are there any plans for an Inkshares app or personal ebook reader?

Yes! I will say no more...

What do you think has been responsible for the steady growth in popularity of Inkshares?

Early last year we saw that readers who first purchased a science fiction or fantasy book were 4X more likely to purchase another Inkshares book than any other reader. So we doubled down on science fiction and fantasy, forging partnerships with companies like Sword & Laser and Legendary Digital Networks. We also got signed with UTA, who brought us Gary Whitta and his book, Abomination (Gary really put us on the Science Fiction/Fantasy map). What's happened, then, is that we've seen marketplace dynamics mature faster in sci-fi/fantasy than any other genre on Inkshares. Our vision is that Inkshares authors needn't do any self-promotion to sell pre-orders. In a world where we have marketplace liquidity, Inkshares readers will organically determine what we should publish. We're not there yet, but sci-fi/fantasy will likely get there first. Last, we've been working on features within Inkshares.com that create re-engagement and compel people to reach out to others and drive them in. Things like credits and recommendations have gone a long way to that end. But I think we have a long way to go on the Inkshares.com reader experience.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering Inkshares versus self-publishing?

The only serious self-publishing options are run by Amazon. And most authors don't realize that Amazon is considered the "Big Bad Wolf" in publishing due to pricing pressure they place on the retail industry. No bookstore will carry a book that is associated with them (even self-published through their software) because they don't want to help Amazon's bottom line. Amazon represents 40% of the US retail market, which is big. But authors who self-publish through them are unable to access the remaining 60% for aforementioned reasons. So, what can an author do? Well, certainly a deal with a traditional publisher would give an author access to 100% of the market. But 99% of authors get rejected by the traditional system. And we know that, statistically, first-time authors produce best-sellers. This is where Inkshares comes in. We publish books that have a pre-validated market attached to them (as evidenced by pre-orders). And our distribution partnership with Ingram Publisher Services gives us access to 100% of the retail market. All of our published titles sit on shelves in bookstores. And they're also sold on Amazon.com. Last, the value of the editing process can't be overstated. We've had many authors come to us convinced their manuscript simply need to be printed and distributed, as 5 people have already "read it and given feedback." We run these authors through our editing process anyway, and sometimes they're driven to tears due to the depth of the edits being made. But after our process is over, they are always much happier with the quality of their story. Many self-published books skip the editing process, and this is a disservice to the reader and writer in my opinion.

I would like to thank Jeremy for taking the time to be interviewed.

I personally use Inkshares for my work, and I must say that my experience thus far has been incredible. The staff is all welcoming and friendly, and I have made many other author friends from all over the world just through the Inkshares community.

If you are an author looking for a positive experience in the often brutal world of publication, then I highly recommend going to Inkshares.com and starting a profile. It is not limited to novels, either. Inkshares produces all different kinds of books, including children's picture books, photography books, and books of art. They are a new, exciting, and flexible company.

And they are, perhaps, the future of publishing.

Questions? Comments? Want to connect, or just need advice? Feel free to contact me at madmrbutler@gmail.com.

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inkshare, Michael haase, Wednesdays, writing
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