Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More on the Big E

I was going to continue Emerald City workshop recaps today, but decided to piggyback onto Pamela Loewy's post from yesterday, especially after a conversation with a couple we met while out to breakfast. The coffee shop is small, as is the community. We'd seen this couple in the shop many times, and finally made those introductions. During the getting acquainted phase, I mentioned I was a writer. Things followed the usual path from there, and I offered them my bookmarks. Normally, I get, "Can I get these at the bookstore?" This time, I got, "Are they on the Kindle?"

First, and I've said this before, I'm all for choices. Abolishing either print or digital formats is NOT a good thing. There's room for both, and definitely places where each works "better" for an individual reader.

Right now, we're watching e-publishing move from infancy to crawling. Publishing itself is changing, and digital options are nudging the changes at a speed traditional publishing isn't used to.

E-book sales rose over 170% last year. More and more readers are showing up on the market, prices are coming down, and there are more and more ways to deal with format issues (which is still, I think, the biggest obstacle). As a matter of fact, one of my publishers is now expanding their format offerings to include e-Pub, which is the preferred format for most of the current e-reader devices, including the Barnes&Noble nook, Sony Reader, iPad, and Kobo.

Publishers are abandoning mid list authors. That's diminishing the choices for readers, and making it harder for an author to generate enough income to justify the time spent writing a book. As bookstores close, mass market sales will be in the major discount chains. Walmart looks at bottom line, not gambling on new authors. If they can make more money selling underwear, that's going to get the shelf space. Big name authors will sell, therefore that's what they'll stock.

Also, the time factor in traditional publishing makes e-publishing look good to authors. Right now, editors are acquiring for 2012 and 2013. If you're trying to break it, it's likely you've spent a good year writing, polishing, querying your manuscript. If you land an agent, there's more time waiting for editors to decide if they're going to buy it. Anything timely in your book will be out of date before the book can hit the shelf. Likewise, writing to today's trend isn't a wise move, because who knows what will be 'hot' in 2013?

E-publishing with an e-publisher is much faster. Self-publishing to digital sites such as the Kindle, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords is virtually immediate. There are those authors, including many such as J.A. Konrath and Bob Mayer, who swear by getting their works up, who say they're making more money in digital sales than they did with print.

But those are big names. Bob Mayer and JA Konrath have a track record for quality. They've got back lists. They've got a following. Mid-list or newbie authors who go the self-publishing route aren't going to find their books selling simply because they're there. The ease of putting a book up on these sites often lures those who are tired of rejections, but haven't come to grips with the possibility that their rejections might be due to sub-par work. This adds to the "stigma" of being self-published, as Pamela mentioned.

The marketing angle Pamela discussed yesterday is going to hang over their heads. If you can't drive traffic to your e-book's 'store', it's unlikely people are going to find it. There are a kazillion books and stories out there. And if you're an unknown, readers are looking for cheap. Real cheap. I can cite the number of Smashwords downloads for my 2 free short stories versus the two that cost 99 cents: Freebies: 1375 downloads. Free samples of the 99 cent books? 133. Actual purchases? Well, that's too depressing to mention, since it tells me that readers who read the samples weren't enticed enough to fork over the change for the full read. I'll even admit I haven't made enough money off those two stories to hit the minimum required to actually get paid.

I've put WHEN DANGER CALLS (a backlist, formerly published in print novel) up at the Kindle Store and will soon be on Smashwords as well. I've priced it at $2.99, which, compared to the original hard cover price of $25.95 is definitely cheap. I'm NOT comfortable doing a lot of in-your-face promotion. I've mentioned it here, on my website, on Facebook, Twitter, and a dozen or so group loops. Am I raking in the royalties? Ha! My goal is to make enough money to "earn out" what I paid to get the rights to the original cover. And I got a very good deal on that. I'm not even close.

But that doesn't mean I don't think e-books are a waste of my time, or that they're any better or worse than print books. No. That choice should be the reader's.


Mason Canyon said...

Got to have those choices. It's amazing how things are changes though and so quickly it seems (or at least to me). :)

Thoughts in Progress

Wynter said...

I get the Kindle question a lot, too. Even my 82 year old father is using one. He can enlarge the print instead of choosing from the small number of large print print books.

Terry Odell said...

Mason - the thing that bugs me the most: people who say, "NEVER"

Wynter - the woman we spoke to at breakfast said that's her favorite thing about e-readers. She doesn't need her glasses.

Barbara Edwards said...

I agree with your opinion about choice. I've been epubbed for ten years waiting for the public to find us. Now we're overwhelmed with new publishers, self-pubbed and ebooks from big publishers. It's moving so fast I feel jet-lagged.

Anonymous said...

As a relatively successful hardcover and Kindle author, I'm quite pleased with the burgeoning eBook realm. I tried it 10 years ago and got squat. With Amazon's marketing exposure, I've sold thousands of Kindle versions and that has helped bring my fantasy series to the attention of a ton of new readers. It IS the wave of the future.

Jon Baxley!/profile.php?id=592991423

Brenna Lyons said...

I agree with you on much of this, especially the fact that what works for Konrath is unlikely to work for a new author. If an author has little or no prior experience in publishing, marketing, and preparing a mss for sale... Well, it's unlikely that person is going to be a blockbuster at SSV (self/subsidy/vanity publishing). I work with indie press and have some SSV titles, and even with an established audience in indie, I sell 100 TIMES or more with an indie publisher than I do with a self-published book, easily.

The one thing I found disconcerting about your post is the separation you place between "epublishers" and conglomerate. To be blunt, conglomerates are now epublishers, as well, and most indies are now doing print books, as well as ebooks. It's becoming easier to separate publishing companies by size and methods than by saying epublishing or digital publishing and not. Since they are all doing it, that has become something of a moot point.

I do give Harlequin high praise for the Carina line. As far as I can see, they are the only conglomerate press willing to attempt the indie methods, and the fact that they brought Angela James online to do it says they want to do it right. Maybe if they succeed, other conglomerate presses will stand up and take notice.


Terry Odell said...

Barbara - in a way, it's exciting to be ahead of the game.

Jon - agreed. Digital options are changing the world of publishing.

Brenna, perhaps I didn't distinguish clearly. There are publishers who focus on digital, first and foremost, and may or may not put their books in print. To me, those are "e-publishers". Yes, almost all publishers are offering digital options, but with the exception of Carina, I think most of what you're calling conglomerates still regard digital as a secondary focus.

Unknown said...

Interesting. That's definitely the way the industry is headed, and, truthfully, I'm excited about it, even though I'm not yet an e-book reader myself. It's a brave new world, to be sure.

Pamela Loewy said...

Hi Terry,

Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to be your guest blogger yesterday. I'm finding much food for thought in your continuation of the discussion today, and in the readers' comments. I think that with the economy still in such dire straits, many people don't have money for discretionary spending. Anyway, at the moment an ereader's at the top of my holiday list. Good luck to my fellow writers - may the Muse be with us all, and a PR genie as well. Thanks again.

Mona Risk said...

Terry, thanks for a very, very interesting article.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

This is a topic that impacts all of us who write professionally. I haven't Kindled yet, but I'm seriously considering it.

Delle Jacobs said...

I've been epublished for the last ten years, and it's been an interesting ride. I recently self-published my re-aqcquired backlist on Kindle and Smashwords, and my sales figures jumped dramatically. Then Kindle put two of my books up as Free Reads (paying royalties to me anyway) and my sales of all my books have gone out of sight. However anyone wants to phrase the put-downs as unimportant freebies, there's no denying that 24,000 people now have my name on books in their computers or e-readers. That's not only promo money can't buy, but it's saying a lot about the size of the audience available for ebooks now.

And if that doesn't stir your brain cells, consider this: in the last three weeks that I've been watching, on almost all days, there was never more that two paper books- and often NONE- in the top 20 of Amazon's best selling romances list. Usually they were all Kindles. Genre fistion similarly had high numbers of ebooks over Kindles, but I didn't pay a lot of attention to the actual numbers. On non-fiction, though, their biggest seller, paper books still predominate.

Terry Odell said...

Mona - you're welcome

Jacqueline; I don't think you've got anything to lose with a back list upload

Delle - so wonderful to hear your success story. Thanks for sharing.

Terry Odell said...

KM - I bought my eBookwise back when I was first e-published. I haven't upgraded yet.

Pamela, my pleasure, and thanks again for being my guest

Caroline Clemmons said...

Terry, great post. I just received a Kindle last month for my birthday. I love it, but I also still love a print books. We went to a bookstore today and I loved being there. I've decided to buy print books if I want to reread them, and downloads for those I just want to read once.

Terry Odell said...

Caroline - yes, there's no reason to say one format, and one format only.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I like the idea of leaving it up to the readers to decide. After all, they're the ones who really count!

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree - it would be silly to eliminate choices. And I just downloaded When Danger Calls - the only bad part is I won't be able to read it until after report card season! :)

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - totally agree. It boils down to supply and demand, but the field is still so new, and I think there's still a good deal of greed, especially with the formatting issues. It's taken one of my publishers years to realize they'll do better by expanding horizons.

Jemi - thanks SO much! I'm sure Frankie & Ryan will be waiting patiently for you to activate their story.

Mimi Barbour said...

You can imagine my dismay when after I returned from Seattle where I promoted my e-books and I found that none of my titles were available on Kindle. I quickly notified my publisher and they fixed it right away. So if any of you have older published e-books, check and make sure they're listed.
I love having the choice to read either way, and now that I'm quickly going through my stack of to-read books, I find I'm more apt to order the new ones on my Kindle.
I just love technology!!

Terry Odell said...

Mimi - I've noticed there's still a good deal of inconsistency in the digital book venues. One more thing we have to deal with.

June Shaw said...

I'm with you on that, Terry. Selling books on Kindle isn't easy for most of us. But I'm still glad it's an option.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

It's a tough time for writers with everything in a flux. The key is to get your book into whatever formats the reader demands. Some will only buy a paperback and some will only buy an eBook. Often, this is a publisher decision, unless we go the exclusive epub route.