Book Review: That Bear Ate My Pants

I recently finished a self-published travelogue/memoir by Tony James Slater, titled That Bear Ate My Pants: the adventures of a real idiot abroad. (Link to Book at Amazon)

Verdict: Big Big Win.

This book made me laugh out loud several times. It’s about a Brit who ends up volunteering at an Animal Rescue center in Ecuador. Despite a few complaints, I highly recommend this book. I know the author was rejected by many many publishers who seem to have said, in the main, that they didn’t know how to market it. Well, true, the man has no platform. He’s not famous. The Rescue center is run on a shoestring and is not world famous. He’s a nobody (in the publishing world) and I enjoyed the hell out of his book. I stayed up too late 3 nights running.

Slater has a way with words and a charming world view (in the main) and his adventures are funny. His story about the Galapagos turtle escape had me howling with laughter.

Sadly, I think if the book had been traditionally published, it’s likely to have died an ignoble death from the neglect that happens to lots of really good books that aren’t massively pushed in traditional channels. In the current environment, he’s probably better off with his charming, funny and heart warming story selling to readers for $2.99. You should read it.

First a Few Cons

Slater needs a copy-editor. He is consistently unclear on the difference between its and it’s and frequently wrong about I vs. me. He misused words just often enough to bug me. (As a writer, of course, I notice these things.)

An editor would not have been amiss, but not for structure or writing. In the main (spelling and word use aside) he’s an excellent writer. But for this reader, I was quite bothered whenever he seemed equate a woman’s appearance with her worth. A good editor would have challenged him on that. There are ways he could have written certain scenes without coming across as thoughtlessly sexist and yet still have conveyed the fact that a certain woman was a dark cloud to be around.

The Pros

This book was funny. I loved it. Halfway through I bought a copy for my mom because I know she’ll enjoy it. I’ll probably buy one for my sister, too. The turtle escape was hilarious. His commentary on machismo was revelatory and quite deft as his adventures continued. It made for one of many thought-provoking themes. The arrival (and departure) of El Lobos was also snicker inducing. Despite the humor, Slater makes it plain, without ever saying it, that what humans do to animals is often disgraceful.

Some Other Thoughts

This book represents what’s fantastic about the New Publishing. Traditional publishing wouldn’t buy this book because it doesn’t fit the mold. But what does this say about all those rejections?

Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,301 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Travel > Latin America > South America
#1 in Books > Travel > Latin America > South America > Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
(emphasis added, captured Friday, March 9, 2012 about 8:00 pm Pacific.)

Yesterday it was in the low 2,000’s. The 4,000’s is a very decent ranking, and that’s without a NY marketing push. The book is outselling a LOT of NY published books. Lots. Based on my reading of the book, I’m not at all surprised by the number of 5 star reviews. I’d give it 5 myself.

So, yeah. What’s wrong in traditional publishing that they felt they couldn’t make a profit off a book that’s out-selling their titles? A title, I should point out, that is #1 in two categories. Would it have been unprofitable in print?

It seems to me there needs to be a shift in how NY approaches what it decides to sell and how it decides to sell it.

Thoughts?

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10 Responses to “Book Review: That Bear Ate My Pants”

  1. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to its worth. But I think there are two important points about this book.

    First, high Amazon rankings in narrow categories can be misleading. My Indie pubbed book hit #3 on the “kindle store>kindle ebooks….>mothering” category while it was selling just over 20 copies a day. Great for me–but for a publisher with overhead and royalties to pay?

    Also, he’s selling the book for $2.99. Don’t know if traditional publishers can make any money at such a low price point. How many of his readers would have bought at a higher price point? Who knows? It’s hard to compare a book selling at $2.99 with books selling for two or three times that. Does that make his 4,000 rank equate the earnings of a more expensive book at the 12,000 rank? I don’t know the answer, but it’s something to keep in mind.

    This isn’t to take away from Slater’s success–more power to him! But I’m definitely seeing in my own Indie/trad pubbed career that some books make sense reaching the market one way,some maybe not so much.

  2. SonomaLass says:

    I just bought it; it’s obviously a worthwhile read.

    I think this author is lucky that NY turned him down, although I wish he had gone the extra steps to hire outside editing. If he had gotten a traditional contract, he probably would have had a crappy print run and very low exposure, but his ebook would be “agency” priced and too expensive for many readers to take a chance on it.

    I agree somewhat with Diana — the NY publishing model is based on needing to sell a LOT of copies of relatively few titles. I think that leads to the narrow categories that make a book like this hard to market. I also think it really screws the authors who don’t get singled out for the full-court press that creates a best seller.

    Not to mention, except that of course I will, that the combination of limited selection, limited exposure and high prices also screws the readers. You know, the little folks who actually put out the money that supports the whole publishing industry….

  3. Diana: Yes, you’re absolutely right about those niche-rankings. We don’t know if a NY pubbed book would ALSO have used that metadata. Though, on the other hand, a #1 ranking in any niche affects how Amazon places you, so they matter for him.

    That 4000 in ALL Kindle books is more significant because it’s ALL Kindle books (except, I guess, erotica). Lot’s of books at $2.99 aren’t doing that well, just as there are 3,999 books, some of which are significantly higher priced, that are selling more than he is.

    20 books a day at ONE vendor is not bad at all. If you’re also selling at all the other eVendors, then you’re doing pretty darn well. Without ANY marketing effort from a publisher. That’s 600 books in a month. Add in all the other vendors and you’re probably selling 800-900 total per month.

    We can’t say that he’s selling well only because of price, though I’m willing to bet if he’d priced at a trade price of $15.95 he’d likely be selling far, far fewer copies.

    Readers are price sensitive. Publishers know that $1.99 books sell A LOT of copies. They absolutely know that. Indie publishers know they can price-adjust to bump their books in the rankings, then raise the price and continue to sell at a higher rate. To my knowledge, Sourcebooks is the only Trad Pub doing this. Why?

    I notice he does not have a POD version, so we can’t make an apples to pears comparison.

    Regardless, if a publisher were to release his book as digital only, they would NOT have the production cost (which is PER COPY printed) of a print version. They’d have a much lower cost structure (essentially 0 cost for every file after 1). Cover, editing, formatting are all one-time costs, they are not incurred per copy. In the digital world, however, covers should not be considered as cast in stone. That’s another thing NY publishers are missing. I assure you, some of the same artists NY hires are doing covers for Indie authors.

    In a sane world, a publisher would charge less than $15.00 for that book, pay the author a higher royalty and STILL make a profit, even if they’re using a distributor (which they’re nuts to do, but whatever).

    Publishers are pretty good at figuring out how to make a print book break even without ever having to pay the author more than the advance. Suppose they started thinking that PRINT supplements digital, instead of assuming digital is a monster eating their cake? What does a P&L statement look like in that scenario? That’s MY big qusetion.

    If I were him, I’d hire a copy-editor and editor, fix the errors and possibly do some light revision, then re-upload and raise the price to 4.99. He’d probably do quite well.

    Regardless, his book DOES have an audience. He’s got a lot of reviews and they’re overwhelmingly positive. Having read the book, I think those ratings are merited.

    Given the last line of my post, I think we’re in agreement. NY needs to rethink how they’re doing what they’re doing.

  4. Hi there Carolyn!
    Hope you don’t mind me weighing in. Thanks so much for the kind review of my book! I’ve had quite a few people spot the various grammar and typo errors – I’m making a list of them, to correct all at once the next time I re-upload the file. When I first decided to self publish I started learning about it as fast as I could, but it was only after publishing that I started to hear about how much stock people placed in getting a professional cover and edit done. I always prided myself on being a perfectionist, and thought I’d caught all the errors myself – mistake!
    So, next time around I will definitely get a proper edit done. I can also afford it now!

    It’s true that the narrow categories are easy to rank in – being #1 in all 3 categories, despite being #4000 overall, is an indication of how little they really mean! Of course, my niche isn’t huge (especially in the ebook world), so I imagine it’s a lot more relevant if you get to #1 in, say, Thriller. (I did make #1 in Humour actually, shortly after coming off the free promotion – which was lovely, but didn’t last of course).

    The thing with ebooks and traditional publishers is that they would make plenty of money selling at the same price as me – after all, their overheads are mostly met by their print books and there are no other costs associated with the ebooks. They just don’t want to sell at the lower price point for fear (unfounded, in my opinion) that this would cannibalise sales of their print books. In reality, some people want print, some electronic – some both! But as print declines, I think some of them are hoping the huge margin for profit on ebooks is going to prop them up while they figure out the future.

    I’d have gone nowhere with a traditional publisher, as they wouldn’t have seen enough return potential to invest in me. Now though? Well, they’re saying ebook charts are the new slush pile… but if NY comes a-calling, I’m not so sure I’ll be interested. At this point in the charts I’m selling about 50 books a day each on both Uk and US, which is just about enough to live on if it continues! I’d dearly love to have my book on ‘real’ bookshelves – it’s one major reason why I wrote it in the first place – but what price eh? They’d have to be confident of a lot of print sales to match the money Amazon brings in, due to the 70% royalty I get from them versus the tiny fraction of that I’d get from a major publisher. And Amazon has SO much potential to grow… how many Kindles did they sell before Christmas? A million a week or something like that?

    Well, who knows! I certainly am not at the point where I could ignore any offers. It would be so exciting, to have a publisher approach me – although I’d be biting my lip wanting to tell them ‘SEE! I told you!’. Hm. I wonder how well that would go down… :0)

    Thanks again Carolyn!

    Tony

  5. Tony: thanks for the comment! If you don’t have a copy-editor, I can give you a few referrals. They’d be US based, but I expect smart enough to leave the Brit-talk alone. You will never catch all the errors, you’ve seen the book too many times.

    Your next task, aside from getting independent eyes on your book, is to write another book. I very much hope you are doing that. I’d certainly buy it!

    Best of luck with your writing.

  6. Katherine Bolton says:

    Well. Thanks a lot. I just bought it. All your fault. Never mind: I’m really looking forward to reading it. Thanks for doing this; we need reviews to find the good ones out there.

    Katherine

  7. Katherine Bolton says:

    I loved it. I was able to blow past the errors, most of them. Mom would have sat there with a red pencil, but she’s 80 and figures “by this time, what the hell.”

    The Dark Cloud Lady passages did bother me and pulled me out of the book, which is never good. But he had me hooked from the introduction. At this pace, he can probably avoid that stupid desk job.