Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Got Pushback On App Idea

Not At All Sure Why…

Of the three ideas I mentioned the other day that I thought might be ripe to start gaining speed, the most attention went to the mass market size and a lot of people liked the gift card for electronic books.

But wow did I get a lot of “That can’t work!” about writers having an app. Not in comments, but in private email and other ways. Stunning. And no one has a really good reason why not.

It might be that apps look “important” and hard to do or something. Or that writers can’t see any reason to use one for themselves. And I must admit, I think it would take a prolific writer with a focus on their own fans to make an app work correctly. As Kris said to me, an app needs to be, for the most part, something you check every day. Or every few days.

Yup, I agree with that.

And one person told me you could never get the thousands and thousands of people to download the app it would take to make it profitable.

Again I agree. I doubt a writer app standing on its own would be profitable. You certainly wouldn’t sell it. It would be free to get fans following you and getting extra and new stuff from you.

And make extra book sales. That’s where writers would make their money.

So I have no reason to this post, other than I found it fascinating how hard and sudden the negative energy went against the idea of a writer having an app to promote and distribute their own work to their own fans. I personally see a lot of positive in the idea, a lot of fun, and something that would bring a lot of energy to an author brand.

But seems I am the only one.

Lots of people had fun thoughts about the mass market and how to use gift cards. Not one positive thought on the app. Very, very interesting.


  • Sean McLachlan

    I think some of the pushback is due to its pure novelty. Mass market paperbacks for Indies and coupons for ebooks are old wine in new skins. The idea for a writer’s app is entirely new.
    Marketing the thing would be the tricky bit. People have so many apps on their phones already, getting them to download one for a writer will be a big hurdle. Not an insurmountable one, though.

    • dwsmith

      Sean, it would be something that would grow like people signing up for a newsletter. Slowly. And there are ways on phones to group apps, so it wouldn’t take up much room if you had ten favorite author apps on your phone. It would all be in one folder. When you wanted something to read, you click on the folder and see which author has pushed something new or interesting to you since the last time you checked.

      • celena a wittman

        I like this idea. Possibly, there could be a universal link for authors with apps where if there is enough content in mass, then we could have our own paid page reads. The customer pays and there is an aggregator that sorts which author is getting paid for what. The idea is very rough and just off the top of my head, but it’s something to think about.

    • C.D. Watson

      The app is a great idea, though, and it’s really not that different from, say, Patreon where users expect fresh, eyes-only content on a regular basis. I can see where writers could definitely make this work within their own platform/ecosystem of readers. Not sure why so many people are having negative thoughts on it. It’s just another tool.

  • Harvey Stanbrough

    Possibly it’s because so many of us simply don’t understand the “app” appellation. (Sorry. grin)

    I’m computer literate and largely self-taught, but to be honest, I don’t really have even a clue what an app is in the context you’re talking about.

    For me, an app is a vague thing lingering in a ghostly image on the outer limits of my mind. It isn’t something I think about much. It’s something that’s just there, something other truly “techy” people create so I can play a game on my computer or so I can open different kind of files on my computer (the Kindle app, the Adobe app for .epub, etc.).

    But the idea is intriguing. For example, you mention using it to get new works (or excerpts, I assume) out to readers. But how would an app be better for that than a newsletter or blog?

    So if you aren’t already worn out from talking about it, maybe a bit on what it is, how it would work, and so on? If you don’t mind, and if you want to.

    • dwsmith

      Newsletters would have a distinctly different reason to exist for authors outside of an app. In fact, you would push your newsletter through your app to some folks, as well as the email.

      And sure, as I get started into doing one in a month or so after I get my web sites updated and working, I will come back to this and explain some of the benefits I see. Especially for someone like me with a lot of writing no one really sees, a lot of workshop stuff, and other publishing things I do.

      But what I think I clearly didn’t make clear enough is the trend of how reading is going into the future. Around the world most readers read on their phones. Here in the States we are behind that trend, but only by a few years. It’s the trend to phone reading that will bring apps to the front. That is my opinion. Now sure, a reader can go on Amazon or Kobo on their phone, but their favorite author’s new book, get it in the reading app on their phone and read it. That’s what we are trained to do now. All I am saying is that readers going directly to an author for their next book, or installment, or article, or video, or audio might be something we all need to start thinking about.

      So yes, I will talk about this again in a few months, explain the details and how it can be done a little more. Stay tuned.

  • Vera Soroka

    I know a few trad authors who have or had apps and I pretty sure Holly Ward had an app. She’s had that for a while. She also uses texting and probably messenger. That has lots of possibilities. So I thought the whole idea of the app was kind of a yesterday idea. LOL

    • dwsmith

      Any time you have a traditional publisher who forces writers to write slow develop an app for a writer, it will first suck, be useless to any reader, and fail by the very nature of traditional publishing not caring about readers. Apps these days would be best used by prolific indie writers who love interacting with their fan base.

  • Andrew Medina

    Really? Holy cow, man.
    I’m reminded of a great interview with Robert Rodriguez when he decided to “own a network,” and now owns El Rey. He can come up with his own programming and show his own movies. This idea is akin to that. I mean you wouldn’t have to pay Amazon or other fees other than the transaction fees for “in-App” purchases. If you could create a reader in the App or allow the book or short story to download say via PDF, so I could keep my own library. Extra for a print copy.
    Then, in order to keep it fresh, if your App builds an audience you could make arrangements with other writers to sell on your app (some simple form drawn up by lawyers) and you’ve got fresh content.
    Only issues is App clutter, but that’s on the person, not you, and if they’re a fan, you should be okay.
    Great idea, Dean.

    • dwsmith

      Well, Andrew, that’s some stuff not even I thought about. Programming like a network? Interesting. And selling others off your app. Okay, both of those idea went right past me on the crazy but fun scale. (grin)

  • James Palmer

    Hi Dean,

    Yeah, that is some weird push back. I’d love to have an app I could push content to. And what a great way to differentiate yourself as a writer! Who the hell has an app?! Best to do it now before everyone and their brother has one.

    The book cards are a great idea as well. A fellow writer had some dropcards at Dragon Con and they looked terrific.

    I would love a full return to mass market paperback size. The closest we have now is that weird size trad pub does, where it’s the same width but a longer length. Those just don’t feel right in my hands. Part of the problem for indies is the price for that size, and the claim that bookstores won’t stock them or something. But they’ll come around. Personally I’d love to see more of the options that trad pub gets, like embossed covers. Maybe one of these days.

    Anyway, great stuff as always, Dean.

  • Lacy Rey

    I find the negativity interesting too because I’ve seen so many indie people, in all types of fields, make apps. Some are small time for a select few end users and others are meant for mass audiences. The idea is pretty exciting.

    And once an app is setup the updating of content should be fairly simple (if built well), so then it’s more accessible to people who can’t quite manage something like magazine layouts for instance. Or for someone looking for an alternative to email newsletters. Or just a way to supplement or compliment some other publication. You could even build an app specific to a story world that contains all manner of cool extras for those hardcore fans.

    I don’t know, I just really like technology. It just gets more and more accessible and interesting every year. The possibilities are truly endless these days.

    • dwsmith

      Lacy, yup, the updating would be done through your web site and pushed to the app automatically. What I found amazing is that if I could figure it all out and build one in very little time (I never launched it because for me three years ago the time wasn’t right) anyone could do it. I will be heading back there, but I have some steps ahead of that first. New website and theme to start off with, get the web site up to speed, then take the next step.

  • Mike

    Couldn’t you use it as a way to circumvent the big e-providers, too? Not for every sale, certainly. And probably not the majority.

    But for your top X number of your most ardent fans, if you were offering exclusive content that could only be had through the app to entice them to download, couldn’t you also sell books through it?

    They pay outside the app, direct to you, then download the book via a code? Could you discount the book from say, $5.99 on Amazon/Kobo/etc. (net of $4.19) and offer it via your app subscription for $4.99 (net $4.99)?

    Not a huge difference per sale but if you hit the “magic” 1,000 true fans number (people who will buy whatever you release no matter what) and released 10 new books a year, that’s almost $8k extra in sales.

    Although I guess there is nothing to prevent anybody from doing that via an email newsletter or website.

    But doing so doesn’t present everything in such a neat format, designed to be used via phone or tablet. And the app itself provides you a direct link to fans that is literally with them 24/7, unlike a website and newsletter that people might only check sparingly.

    I’m not saying it would be easy but it sounds pretty cool to me….

    • dwsmith

      Actually, Mike, that is one of things that is very possible. And very clean. And could all be automated. A cash stream. And on an app you could do an early release for your fans before it hit Amazon and Kobo. And add extra content. And… and… and…

    • R. K. Thorne

      I wonder if Apple would approve in-app sales of books as in-app purchases. They tend to be okay with this but they shut it down when it competes with their other apps. (Why you can’t by kindle books in the Amazon app for example, but you can in Safari.) It’d be cool if they approve it, they also take 30% so it wouldn’t make much difference. In-app sales add to app ranking and discoverability so that would be beneficial. But setting up a system of online purchases and codes seems very viable too.

      I think the app idea is cool. As you’ve said, Dean, the problem would be having enough content to be worth it.

      (Says this former indie iOS game publisher and mobile UX designer. I know the app world very well.)

  • David Anthony Brown

    I’ve done a weekly free short story through a WordPress website off and on over the last year. That’s built up its own audience, mostly other writers who discover me through the WordPress reader I think. Seems like an app would attract a wider and more diverse audience, I don’t know. If I were prolific enough (more novels and a wider list of short stories), I’d certainly experiment with an app for a week short story. I look forward to the day I can do those experiments.

    The mass market idea is something I’m experimenting with right now. I’ve wanted mass market size books since I first started print publishing. So very glad I can do it now, even if I can’t get into the expanded distribution yet.

  • Rachel

    Maybe because writers forget to think like fans when they evaluate business ideas? I would love to download a JK Rowling or Dean Koontz app. I bet a lot of Nora Roberts fans would say the same. It’s just a new delivery system for the same content (maybe plus exclusive extras). Serious fans would love to get it all in one place instead of wondering if they missed the latest installment.

  • Nicole E Montgomery

    I wonder if it isn’t more hostility to the idea of app itself, than lack of interest in or hostility to an author app. I know I get annoyed when I click a link and I get prompted to install an app, or can only do something with a specific app that I won’t use very often otherwise. I will usually just skip whatever it is.

    But I also know a lot of people who happily install hundreds of apps, so I don’t see a good reason it couldn’t work.

  • David Wisehart

    Most writers are already using apps to connect with readers: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter apps, for example. Some non-fiction authors have their own branded apps (Mark Dawson has one for his Self-Publishing Formula podcast), but it could work well for fiction. Once the app is created, the hard part is feeding it content. But that’s the same issue with blogging, podcasting, newsletters, or any other serial publication. Some savvy novelist is going to knock this out of the park.

  • Richelle Sepulveda

    I find the push back really weird. I follow a reader group on FB that eventually launched their own app. The main group behind it is a collection of indie authors who interact with fans regularly, and talk about their favorite books/authors. The app itself has a store featuring these authors, releases promos each week for giveaways, e-books to download, or other fun stuff. It is more for readers than authors, but it does serve as a vehicle to direct readers to these specific authors’ books, which I am all for! I don’t think the app itself makes any money, but that is not the point.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Richelle, not the point. You make money in book sales. And having authors group together is a great idea with apps. I have heard of that in a case as well.

  • Kate Pavelle

    I see the potential, but I’m ambivalent for several reasons:

    1. I’m not as tech-savvy as Dean. My savvier husband Scott built a web-app to aid mushroom identification (look up Bolete Filter), and the natural next step was to turn it into an app. We ran into severe development issues. Granted this is a synaptic filter containing a lot of info, including images, and making it navigable on a small screen is trickier than we thought. Also, an Android app is easier to build than an IOS app, and not every techie is conversant in both.
    So we’ve been burned. A writer’s app would be simpler, sure, but nothing is bug-free or even “free.”

    2. I keep turning off push notifications with every system update just to extend battery life, as well as trying to live phone-free a bit more. This whole push for apps (loyalty cards, gym memberships) suck life out of my phone.

    3. Gimme a phone with a 3-day battery charge while it’s on 24-7 for one year used the way I use it now, and then I’ll cave to using apps for things and give up my little barcode cards on my keychain.

    4. For me personally, the whole very viable, very future-forward idea of a writer’s app seems too high maintenance. Very WIBBOW, definitely for right now. Using more apps, again just for me, is a distraction and ties me closer to the device I’m trying to leave behind every so often. Phone dependence is unhealthy, folks.

    The idea is good, but I don’t think it’s ready yet.

    • dwsmith

      Kate, just to clear something up, I am not tech-savvy and just the suggestion sent a bunch of my friends snorting their coffee and laughing. And I would NEVER hire someone to build an app for my writing. Way, way off the charts in cost to return. It has to be quick, web-based, and flat easy for an old guy like me to do.

      And you are correct, it is not free. In fact, the hosting and background stuff on some of these places run about the same price as an inDesign subscription per month. And you clearly need a new phone or a routine to plug it in automatically. I plug my phone in for a few hours once every three days. I have a new iPhone. The world is going to phones and so is reading.

      I am 68 years old and feel naked going out the door without my phone, not because I am tied to it or even read on it. I don’t. I actually just use it as a phone. And Kris is constantly showing me how to use things on it, (which I instantly forget) and I think I have about four apps I use on the phone. But I am not taking my personal experience and trying to figure out the new world based on that, I am using statistics, data, how the new generation use their phones and how reading will be done in the future. My job is to stay in this game going into the future. And changing and adapting my sales channels and methods to the new world is part of that staying in the game. That’s why I am still here when I sold my first short story in 1974.

      So it has nothing at all to do with my personal habits or likes or beliefs. I still think for me a phone is for making phone calls. But I am old and I really don’t think the young generations need to get off my lawn or live the way I do. I just need to plant better grass to make more of them want to be on my lawn.

  • charlotte

    I love the app idea. I think it makes for a great publishing and sales channel. I’m too small to really take advantage of it for now, but still want to play with apps just to see what’s possible. I think it makes a lot more sense than using facebook groups for your closest, most committed readers : more benefits for them and independence from the platforms. As long as the app doesn’t weigh 100 tons on their phone and you can publish things regularly to keep their interest.

  • Kris Endicott

    Dean, it’s interesting that there was so much push back on the app as not workable. My writing group believes in this idea so strongly that we’ve spent the last year developing a website/app to deliver our stories directly to readers. The streaming service launches the first of next month. I’ll let you know how it works out.