Monday, May 30, 2011

e-Publishing "Dangers"

What I'm reading: Live Wire, by Harlan Coben.

First: A very Big Thank You to those who have served to protect our country.

Next: Tomorrow is the last day for my May contest, given the dearth of entries, it's likely to be the last contest I run here for a while. Click the contest tab to enter.

And, lastly, Blogger's comment feature is acting up. I'm switching to the pop up window option to see if that helps.

When I started writing, my first publications were with e-publishers, so I've certainly been aware of the digital market from its infancy. I have several titles from my back list that I decided to publish independently, but I recently decided that I would bypass a publisher for my next book. It wasn't an easy decision, but I thought I'd share some of my reasoning, as well as the pros, cons, and potential pitfalls.

First: I'd hoped to add two more of my back list titles, but I have yet to get the official reversion of rights from that publisher, so they've been relegated to the back burner.

Second: my two short stories aren't due out in an anthology until August, and based on what I've seen with that publisher, it's not a firm release by any means.

Third: I'd already written the fourth book in my Blackthorne, Inc. series, and had to decide if I should submit it to the publisher.

Although I have a new release, WHERE DANGER HIDES, it's a hard cover, which means its expensive, and since there's no digital version, I'm aware that it's going to be a hard sell. Heck, I don't buy full-price hard covers, so I wouldn't expect a huge number of sales.

The issues:

1. Five Star publishes only in hard cover, and they have an extremely limited distribution system, targeting only the library market.

2. They publish a very small number of new books per year, so there's a long 'wait' between books even if they do buy one.

3. My second book with them, WHERE DANGER HIDES was just released, but the third won't come out until April of 2012. If I submitted a 4th, the earliest I could expect to see it would be 2013. Now, if they paid a substantial advance, the one book a year schedule might work, but they don't.

After some consideration, I decided that I would publish book 4, DANGER IN DEER RIDGE myself, even before book 3 was released. As I wrote it, I made sure that this book wouldn't contain spoilers for the "previous" books, although members of my covert ops team appear in all the books. Also, this book brings back characters from the second book, which IS already out.

No lengthy wait time.
Keeps "new" material in front of readers.
Royalty payments come directly to me.
It's not as much of a 'suspense' as the other books, and the 'covert ops' side of things is less of a focus, so it's quite likely the publisher wouldn't have acquired it anyway, since they no longer have a romance imprint.

To ensure quality, I paid a free-lance editor and a cover artist out of pocket. I also made the decision to keep the cover "similar" in tone to the other Blackthorne books, even though it's not an obvious "romantic suspense." And because I used photographs I'd taken, I saved some money there.
I had to deal with the other things a publisher normally does. In the case of an e-book, that means formatting it for the various outlets (and there are different requirements for each). It also means I'm solely responsible for marketing.

The book is technically book 4 in the series, although I wrote it as a stand alone, given that the publisher considers only one book at a time. With book 1 out as an e-book, after rights reverted to me, and book 2 out only in hard cover, I'm looking at two totally different markets. But book 3 is a year away, and there are those (myself included) who don't like to read "out of order" even though you don't need to read any of the previous books. The kicker for me was that although the publisher grants e-rights to authors, they have to wait a year after release to exercise them.

There's still the impression that a self-published book isn't going to be as "good" as one published by a traditional publisher, either print or digital. "Did you self-publish?" seems to carry the unspoken, "because it's not good enough to go elsewhere."

It's not always a simple "click upload and your book appears" situation. As of this writing, my book doesn't show up on the Kindle site if you go to my author page, although if you search on the title, it's there. The Barnes & Noble site hasn't uploaded my cover yet. And, even when everything's done and "pretty", without a huge following, people won't find my books unless they're actively looking for them. I'm hoping these are simply the 'normal' issues when uploading new books.

I won't sell enough copies to recoup my investment.
The time required to keep an e-book visible amidst the masses of new books, and the competition with "big names" who are now going the indie route for backlists and original material is prohibitive. And the rule of thumb is, the more books you have to offer, the better your sales will be. But if you have to spend your time marketing and promoting, where is the time to write more books?

So, this is kind of an experiment. Will I lose money? Break even? Come out ahead? I'll be waiting to see.

If you've read this far, thanks. A few words about the book. To see a blurb, click here. To read the first chapter, click here. Buy links are at either site.

And When Danger Calls, Book 1 in the series, has been reduced to 99 cents. Another experiment to see if that price point will generate enough sales, and also to see if there's crossover to my other books. Buy links here.

Tomorrow, author Lillian Stewart Carl will be here. Her topic: Real Men Wear Kilts. Don't want to miss that one, do you?


Kelly McClymer said...

Hi Terry!

Congrats on trying the experiment. I hope it works well for you. Can you tell us why you love this book and want it to have as many readers as you can find?

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Just made this decision myself with An Uncertain Refuge, a suspense novel that languished in my computer for five years while I searched for a home for it. Now I can manage it myself. I'm glad I decided to try this.

Karla said...

Having gone the independent route twice already, I can sympathize with the effort that goes into your own promotion and marketing. I'd promised myself to go traditional with my next one, but with all the changes in the industry, although I will still pursue a traditional outlet, the book I'm editing right now is earmarked for indie once again. If I can't make traditional sale, at least it gets it off my shelf!

Kathy Bennett said...

Terry, Great post.

I've asked myself these very same questions.

I too am going the indie/self-published route with my book A Dozen Deadly Roses. But for me, this is my debut novel and no one knows who I am. I know some of my friends are watching my progress to see how I do before they take the plunge.

The main 'tipping point' for me is the control self-publishing affords me. Imagine that - a former cop who wants control!

Thanks for a great blog!

Terry Odell said...

Kelly: hard to answer in the comments, but in a nutshell, the characters in this book are "repeats" from other books, and their story arcs weren't done. It also fell a bit outside the lines of traditional romantic suspense and Blackthorne's usual activities, but after moving to the mountains, I knew I needed to set a book there, and coming into a totally new environment, I needed to explore how my characters would deal with having to change their entire lives. I certainly hope others enjoy it.

Terry Odell said...

Carolyn - good luck! (And just like with traditional publishing, I think there a LOT of luck involved) But the opportunities are endless.

Karla - I definitely think there's a market for both approaches. I don't see the total demise of publishing, only that it will change.

Kathy - I know you already have a following -- best to you in your venture.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Just checking to see if it's working now. Yep, I think so.

I e-mailed my comment to you, Terry, but basically am agreeing that your decisions sound practical and smart for your situation. I'm mulling over some of the same options for more Sylvia and Willie mysteries, but am still looking to traditional publishing for my newer novels. We'll see what happens.

Terry Odell said...

Patricia: No reason we can't have both. Some things are better fits for indie; others for legacy publishers.

Cindy Sample said...

Hi Terry. Thanks for the concise post. I hope you'll continue to keep your fans apprised of your journey. As an author of one traditionally published book and one on the way, I'm always interested in learning more about this rapidly changing industry. I applaud your initiative.

I can't wait to start reading this series.

Terry Odell said...

Cindy - I'm always happy to let others learn from my experiences, both good and bad. And I hope you'll enjoy meeting all the Blackthorne "boys."

B. J. Robinson said...

I just bought Danger to Deer Ridge yesterday and the other one for 99 cents today. I have not self-pubbed, but I admire you for having the guts to try it. Good luck with your books. I have one releasing July 15 through Desert Breeze Publishing. Your novels sound interesting to me, and I'm an avid reader and passionate writer. I REALLY READ and review the novels on my blog. Blessings, BJ

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your new endeavor, Terry! I'm honestly thinking of taking the same route, and you're right, it is so damn scary! But, I think it's a great risk to take, and I just ask myself, what do you stand to lose?
Please update and let us know how it goes.

Terry Odell said...

BJ -- good luck with your book. I was at a conference when Desert Breeze was just starting up, and they seemed to be on top of things.

Taylor - it sure beats books sitting on my hard drive, and in this case, I didn't think waiting as long as it would take was the best move for me right now. Of course, I could be terribly wrong, but it's something I decided to try.

Beth Trissel said...

Thanks for this, Terry. Good to know and very interesting. Keep us posted.

Amber Polo said...

Thanks for explaining your thinking.
Men in Kilts? Next you should interview Kris Tuella who claims Norway is the new Scotland and get a debate going. :)

Lynda Hilburn said...

Terry: Good for you! I think authors have to pull on every thread possible. One of the things I enjoy the most about this "wild west" phase in publishing, is that anything can happen. I've seen books (even series books) that weren't bought by trad publishers get indie pubbed, then picked up by a different trad publisher. The rules are changing minute-by-minute. What a great time to be an author.

Ray said...

However you published I am glad I had a chance to buy it. Hope the rest of the series will get to eBook status soon.

I hope the word gets around that your books deserve to be read by all who love to read.


Terry Odell said...

Beth - I definitely intend to

Amber - that sounds interesting

Lynda - just trying to keep up with the changes is exhausting, much less writing!

Ray - thanks (and feel free to pass the word!)

Mimi Barbour said...

Hi Terry,
Lately, I've read some very good indie published work and thought that I'd lucked out on a bargain - a great read for half the normal price. But then, I did stumble on some very badly edited work that should never have been put into print so...??? I think anyone who already has a name out there, who's already been published stands a good chance of making decent sales.
Good luck!!

Morgan Mandel said...

I self-pubbed Killer Career because I didn't want to play the waiting game any more. The only thing I regret is making the print book returnable because bookstores take advantage of that feature.

My next one will go up first on kindle, then POD, but not returnable!

Morgan Mandel

Terry Odell said...

Mimi - that's why I love the 'free sample' feature of e-books. You can download enough (most of the time) and avoid what you don't like.

Morgan - I haven't opted for print on any of my books yet. My back list titles are still around, so Danger in Deer Ridge is the first with no print option. I might get around to it if I see enough of a demand.

Ray said...

There was a discussion on independent publishing, cooperative independent publishing with pros and cons. eBooks vs POD, etc. One of the audience members commented, that it would be difficult to autograph a Kindle book. The conclusion of the author/moderator was that there is going to be a mix of electronic and print books. They discussed different eReaders. Some eBooks are so cheap that people buy a bunch and the sales statistics make a steep up-curve and then when readers decide maybe they need to read what they already have before they buy more then there is a down-curve on the roller coaster ride to sales. Publications on different platforms were discussed and the moderator said there are just so many versions of Angry Birds you need.

There was another discussion on NPR's BBC News Hour this morning about the town of Hay, UK where the town is saturated with book stores. They are in the midst of a book fair. The publishers there take the opinion of readers about what should be published by authors at the fair. They have a minimum response from readers about what they like. In fifty days if there is enough interest a book is published, if not it isn't.

For what it's worth,


Terry Odell said...

Ray - that's very interesting. I agree, I think sales skyrocketed across the board after everyone got a new e-reader for the holidays. And just because there's a book on your reader doesn't mean you're going to get around to reading it for a while. However, the same thing can be said for those who buy countless print books and have a room-sized "TBR" pile.

I know when I go on line with my NOOK, I'll download a bunch of samples. If I like what I've read, I'll go ahead and purchase the book.

Susan Fleet said...

Hi Terry, love your blogsite. Enjoyed your article. Your reasoning sounds pretty solid to me. That you have to wait such a long time for your trad-pubbed book to come out must be very frustrating. Lots of things about trad publishing are frustrating, which is why I went Indie.

Wishing you well with both endeavors!

Edna Curry said...

Interesting, Terry.
I've put up some of my backlist and also tried one new one: My Sister's Keeper.
You're right, it's scary going it alone, but...still I wanted to try it, so jumped into the water.
We'll see how it goes.
Edna Curry

Terry Odell said...

Edna -- good luck with your venture. It's scary, but it's fun, too. And thanks for following my blog.