Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Some Ideas I Think Might Be Ripe

This Is Just A Fun Thought Experiment…

But I think that some ideas in publishing that have been around for a time and not gotten much traction might be nearing time-is-right place.

Just my opinions, and I am sure I am missing a ton of other close, but not ready yet, things. But here are three to think about that I personally think are close.

Idea One… Gift Cards for Books

Now back in 2011, we did a couple books on credit-card-like cards with a code on the back to download the book. In essence the idea was to give a physical form to electronic books.

We mounted the books on what looked like a folded cover flat of a 5×8 trade paper. The front cover was the cover of the book, back cover the back cover. Inside was more about the book on one page and on the other was the card and how to download the code on the back.

We gave a couple hundred of them away for a collection of mine and a collection of Kris’s. And we ended up at a signing actually signing electronic books.

Now today, a place called is fairly cheap and amazing. They will load up your book, print your cover on the plastic cards, do the instructions on the back, and even do everything on the back end, including keeping track of the address of anyone downloading your book. Now the business is set up for musicians, but look under “Uses” tab and you will see where it talks about authors. And for a 100 of them about 49 cents each.

You will still have to distribute them, sell them, use them as give-aways, that sort of thing. But they are fun and cool and another way to get to readers and fans.

So I think this is a possible future way authors can get their books out and have another cash stream and a way to build a mailing list.

Idea Two… Mass Market Paperbacks

A lot of us have been talking and hoping for this size to return for indie writers for a long time now. More years than I want to think about. But it was always difficult to do until this last week when Vellum added the size to one of their free upgrades.

Now my sense is that this size will come back strong over the next three or four years. Readers like mass market size better. So do bookstores. And pricing, if you watch your layout, can be kept in control.

So before this last week, I would still say this was a ways out. Not now. Got a hunch this is almost a sure thing to sweep in.

Idea Three… Apps for Writers

A number of years back I built an app for my writing. After playing around with the idea for a year, I never launched it because the time wasn’t right. Now I do know that big name writers out of traditional publishing have apps, but the apps honestly flat suck and are not maintained.

And back to Idea One… You can even load an app onto those plastic cards for people to download. Hmmm…

Apps are scary easy to build and push to the major app stores. Just about anyone these days can do it and drive it off your web site. Basically, it would be like a more interactive newsletter. And if you blog regularly or do regular free stories or things like that, apps are logical to push the content to fans.

For example, I do a tip of the week in video and let people subscribe to them on Teachable. I could do those tips for free and push them over my app every week, so the only people who would get them would be those who downloaded my app.

Cozy writers could do recipes every week to fit with their books. Or nonfiction writers doing photos from research. Or free short stories for short story writers. Or… Or…

And, of course, you would link your books on your app to where they could be bought and do Advanced Reading Copies for selected fans, and link to preorders. And fun promotions. So many ways to use it.

And studies are showing that more and more readers are reading content on their phones.

Just Google “build your own app” and compare the different places. There are articles that compare the features of the different app building sites. And costs. Cheaper than you might imagine.

Indie writers have not gone this way yet, but I am starting to hear a few rumblings. Might not be that far out that a few writers give this a shot. And got a hunch, it just might work, depending on your content, how much you could push to your users, and so on. It would combine well with Patreon and other social media sites as well.

It flat doesn’t work for traditionally published writers with one or two books a year. But indie writers??? Prolific indie writers might just well be the right source for a new wave of apps.


So that is just three things I see off in the future for writers. Just my opinion. I might be wrong, but all three of these have bubbled for a time now. Just saying…


    • dwsmith

      Thanks for the link, Robert. And notice they are using Brandon as an example. Kind of nifty. I haven’t checked out what he has done, but Brandon both traditionally publishes and indie and does some fun stuff.

  • Colleen

    Two out of three are hits for me as a reader, Dean. I really wish that all my new paperbacks were the same size, whatever that might be – but I really prefer mass market size. And I would definitely buy gift cards. And if they had the book cover on them? I’d collect them as well as give them away!

  • Thomas Phillips

    The dropcards look neat. Feelies are always nifty. The media hosting and distribution is very nice feature.

    Does a mass market paperback have a specific trim size?

    Apps can be really cool, but there are two snags. First, an app made for a custom platform (like an iPhone or Android) costs resources to maintain. The underlying platforms change year-to-year, and if you don’t keep up with the changes (and constantly release new versions), then eventually the app becomes unusable on the platform. The alternative is an app written in HTML5 and Javacript, which can be made to work in any browser. For browser apps, though, controlling distribution (and updates) is difficult unless you maintain a backend server. And a backend server incurs an operational cost.

    • dwsmith

      Thomas, the app builders us non-computer folks go to update the platform on their apps all the time and they distribute to all the major stores. And the apps themselves are driven from your own web site, basically. So yes, what you are talking about was a problem when I looked it five years ago. All been covered now with the self-builder sites. But there is a monthly cost to them to maintain. Under a hundred a month, but it still adds up.

  • Linda Jordan

    I design postcards for my books (with Bookfunnel codes) and get them printed up (on 50% off sales) then sell ebooks at events. Not quite as inexpensive as Dropcards, but I’m already paying for Bookfunnel and I love their download experience for the reader. I’m going for a wider spread of ebooks available, because there’s a lot of people at events who don’t buy paper books anymore.

  • allynh

    Let us know if there ever is a mass market size POD. That would totally change the industry, because now, each POD is cut from standard Letter size paper, wasting most of it. The cost of POD is the same as copying, per page, so if there was a way to not cut away so much paper, that would be a breakthrough.

    Espresso Book Machine

    I use the 6×9 book block to minimize the cost of each copy. If they could somehow print mass market on a Letter size page(getting four pages rather than two), it would cut the paper cost in half.

    • dwsmith

      You can POD mass market right now. No issue. Paper costs are yes, the same per page. But notice that on Mass Market the print is smaller and the margins set different than trade. The reason for this is because the eye doesn’t have to travel as far across a page. Also leading between lines is tighter than trade for the same reason.

      Study the layout, folks, of mass market vs trade and then do some costs comparisons. I think you will discover there is not a lot of difference if you make the interior actually look like a mass market, and I assume that is what vellum has just done. Or I hope it is. I have not checked it out yet.

      • allynh

        Take a sheet of Letter size paper. Lay two mass market books side by side on the page. Then take two tall mass market books and lay them side by side, like the Dean Koontz books. When I see that I start to go wild in how I would lay out the books, if they could actually get four pages from every piece of paper to keep the cost down.

        I’m always battling myself on size, font, columns. On one hand I think as a Reader wanting to pay the least for a paper book, yet as a Reader, if the book is 6×9, I want a nice clear layout with big font like you have in YA books.

        If we are still talking POD using only Letter size paper, then what you do with Smith’s Monthly, two column, is the best way to go. You can have small font, two column, and it is vastly easier to read, with fewer costly pages.

        I got Clancy in hardback to have bigger font, yet in one of the books he had 750k, tiny font, in the hardback. It was painful to read. I would use a white card held under the sentence to be able to read it. If they had gone two column, same font, it would have been a clean read, with fewer actual pages.

        • dwsmith

          But we are not talking about author costs here yet. I will research that. We are talking about what readers love and mass market was a size for eighty years that people loved and still do. If indie writers can get their books to that size economically, it is a win for indies.

  • Scott has had POD mass market paperbacks for years. They’re very nice. They’re just a tad expensive.

    • dwsmith

      And a very scary TOS. Extreme caution there unless you are a large corporation and can negotiate out some of their worst clauses.

  • Chad V. Holtkamp

    It’s funny that I was sitting by my mother-in-law’s too-cold-to-swim-in pool over Christmas enjoying an old Doc Ford mass market paperback. I’d just done up all of mine in 5×8 trade POD and thought it’d be cool to do a mass market size. Vellum didn’t have the option at the time but I jumped on it when the Brads sent out the email this week.

    Too bad it doesn’t look like it’s going to save me any money as the smaller size has a higher page count. I haven’t tried uploading to KDP to be sure what the costs might be, though, so maybe it’ll surprise me.

    It looks like the 4.25” x 7” is going to be the best size. KDP doesn’t do expanded distribution for mass market size and Ingram Spark doesn’t do the trad 4.12” x 6.75” size.

    Per the Vellum Help Files:
    “To produce any of these smaller sizes at KDP, you’ll need to make use of their option for custom trim sizes. Custom sizes are the same price per page, but aren’t eligible for expanded distribution.

    While 4.12 × 6.75 is a traditional size for mass market paperbacks in the US, IngramSpark does not include this in their list of supported trim sizes.”

    • dwsmith

      Yup, still a ways to go, but got a hunch the pressure will push this forward even more now that Vellum has added in the size. And I hope Vellum adjusts leading and font sizes between lines enough to allow these to get the print down in size enough to make it work with page counts. Got a hunch to start with, we’re doing to see some really ugly mass market books from indies because this is an entire new form. Even the covers have to have a new design look, not counting the interiors. Going to be fun to watch this.

  • allynh

    The thing to do is at least experiment with the layout for the future when they can get the cost down.

    – What is a good font and font size for a mass market book, in POD.

    Some fonts work better using ink, others work better using toner. A great design for an ink mass market may be horrible for POD toner. I have a laser printer so I can at least print out toner pages and see.

    Do you and Kris have access to someone who does mass market layout for a Trad publisher to find out what they do.

    • dwsmith

      Allnh, not a clue yet. Haven’t had a chance to play with it. And nope, we know of no one and I don’t think it would matter. Laying out a traditional published paperback for a 32 or 64 page signature on a large web press is not something any of us would need. And honestly, not at all sure what you are talking about the difference between ink and toner and fonts. I think that kind of thinking is out of about 1990 I’m afraid. Can’t tell the difference in the two processes these days, other than that web press printing is often blurry.

      • allynh

        All you need to ask the people in Trad is:

        – What font do you use.

        – What font height.

        – What line spacing.

        Then you can go from there.

        The main point is, what layout do you want in your mass market books. What do you want to hold in your hands and read. No other opinion matters.

        I’ve spent vast amounts of time over the years doing book layouts to please the multitudes in my head. All the while with those critical voices snarking at what was I was doing. I finally had to ask:

        – What do I want the book to look like.

        Then I had an answer.

        • dwsmith

          Go ahead. Ask away, but I have an easier way.

          Simply take a mass market paperback you like the looks of, open it up, get on your computer, and imitate the look.

          I know this attitude will shock most writers, but sorry, research is really possible for covers and interiors simply by opening one you like and imitating it.

          Of course, if you use some knock-off design program instead of InDesign, you will also have to buy fonts. Remember, fonts are copyright protected. InDesign licenses their many fonts for you to use and is part of what you are paying for every month. 99% of all books in traditional are done with InDesign or at least the fonts available in InDesign. But might take you a little time to find the same one you like, but in the process you will learn more about fonts.