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Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
I've been extolling the virtues of self-published e-books since at least 2007, but the process has only recently gained widespread notice. I wrote my first novel in 2004 and was originally thinking of going the traditional route of finding an agent and hoping a big publisher would pick me up. I wouldn't say no to that route even today, but there are just some aspects of the business that are not very attractive to me. As near as I can tell, all of those aspects are resolved by self-publishing.
Self-publishing still holds some stigma. I am frequently treated to rolling eyes when I mention it to other authors. The truth is that people self-publish their novels all the time. The list of famous self-publishers includes writers like James Redfield, Christopher Paolino, and L. Ron Hubbard (I'm told John Grisham's first novel was initially self-published, but couldn't find a credible source to confirm that).
The following is a short list of the virtues of e-publishing, compiled from all the research I've done and people I've talked to inside and outside of the writing industry.
1. No Slush Pile
If you submit your novel to an agent or publisher without their consent, your work goes on a slush pile. The company or agency will eventually sift through that pile and (hopefully) find your book and like it. The problem is that there's no telling who will read your work, and many times you will not get the editor or agent who should be reading it. One published author told me about the slush pile at a major publishing house being reviewed by college students. Not editors. Not experienced professionals. College students. Not that there's anything wrong with college students, but the general procedure with this particular slush pile was that if they weren't hooked on the story on page one, they'd throw it out. Slush piles like theirs are simply too big and I don't want my book to disappear in one. Self-publishing an e-book has no slush pile. When it's done, you publish it.
2. Time Frame
Let's assume a publisher loves your work and wants to purchase the rights. Great! Now, when does it get into the hands of the readers? Next week? Try years. Possibly as many as three years, depending on the publisher's backlog. The Writer's Market handbook I flipped through had only a handful of publishers who could publish new authors faster than two years. Granted, I'm sure that figure changes often based on several factors, but still... I want readers to have access to my book when it's done, not years later.
3. Creative Control
This is the biggest point with me. I want full creative control. I'm absolutely petrified of some agent or publisher saying "this is great but you should add 20,000 words", or "remove 20,000 words", or "you should replace the main character with a giant inflatable badger". Arbitrary changes like that just make me cringe. It's not that I don't want feedback. That's what workshops and writing groups are for. What I write is not perfect, but I don't want anyone to be able to force me to make changes. Self-publishing, whether it's an e-book or a vanity press, lets me keep full control over the worlds and characters I create. Maybe I'm a control freak. I don't really care what's selling now. I want to tell the story I want to tell without having it tainted by changes to make my writing more popular or mainstream. I'd rather make trends than follow them.
I've read many stories from authors about the publishing industry. The general consensus is that you get very little help with marketing your first book. Once it becomes a best-seller or gets a good review from someone influential, then you get the publisher behind you, helping out as much as they can. Otherwise, new authors can very easily disappear without that marketing support network. The bottom line is that you have to do most of the legwork yourself. So, if you have to do it all yourself, why not... do it all yourself? Is it possible to succeed this way? Ask James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy, who self-published and sold 100,000 copies from the trunk of his car before being picked up by Warner Books.
5. Cost vs POD
If you get picked up by a big publisher, they pay you an advance and royalties based on sales. If you try to self-publish, it usually costs quite a bit. I've done research on Print-On-Demand (POD) services like Amazon's CreateSpace, Lulu, Booklocker, and iUniverse. As much as I like the idea of holding a copy of my book, it's just too expensive. Most of those services charge you to publish and then leave you with a book that has a retail price of $18 or more. Who's going to pay that much for a paperback from a new, unknown author (well, besides me)? Even with services that have no up-front cost, you can easily end up with a novel that would cost a reader $12 to $14. Going the e-book route, the cost is cut to almost nothing. Services like Lulu and Apple's iBookstore take a cut of the sale price, usually around 15% to 30%. Selling an e-book for as little as $1.99 per copy becomes a cost-effective option.
I expect the influx of devices like the Nook, Kindle, and iPad to continue accelerating, and the inevitable price wars between them will make reading e-books an even more common practice. People can read e-books on their computers as well. I've been doing that ever since I discovered Project Gutenberg in 2002 or so.
I originally started writing that last reason as the article summary and spent some time arguing with myself over whether it was a summary or not. Electronic delivery of virtual media is the future. As much as I like holding a book in my hands, I expect them to become rare in my lifetime. Amazon recently announced that their e-book sales finally surpassed physical copies. I don't think there's anything that could prove my point more.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
Readercon 21 was pretty cool. I went to a lot more readings this year, which made it much more interesting. I even went to a panel about carnivorous plants. Hopefully they will make it into a story of mine soon!
The most interesting panel I went to was about ebooks. Cecilia Tan of Circlet Press was the speaker. She was very energetic and knowledgeable about the printed and ebook formats. The impression she gave me, which confirms what I think, was that while ebooks are on the rise, they will not be a replacement for the traditional printed book any time soon. This is not surprising since many people still like the feel of the printed book; you can go into a used book store and pick up an old favorite (something you will not likely ever be able to do with an ebook).
I discovered that many writers seem to dislike the Amazon agreement. Perhaps loathe would be a better word to use. Then there is uploading and formatting that they didn't like. They were more excited, but hardly as excited as I would have thought, about the epub format. There are several gotcha's when trying to use epub. That sounds like good fodder for another blog entry.
I love ebooks; So much so I have stopped buying printed books for a couple reasons. The main reason is that I like having my bookcase in a portable format. I want to be able to study a C++ programming reference book at home, make notes in it, and then bring it to work with me the next day. I also want to be able to bring in my physics book and my AI book. What I don't want is to have to bring a backpack laden with all these books. Hey, I'm not a school boy anymore. I am also tired of moving all my reference books when I move to a new apartment.
Now, let me balance that with why I don't like ebooks. Cost. They are too expensive compared to the printed format. The price is better these days, most notably for technical books. You can usually save between $5 - $10, plus what you save on shipping. Not to mention the time you wait for the book to arrive. If you are like me, you don't like waiting for anything. I like retail stores because I can shop, compare, decide and walk out of the store with my new purchase, all at the same time. There's no wait and no fuss. With an ebook, it is much the same. I can shop, compare, decide and have the book delivered to my reader in seconds.
The predominant ereader at Readercon was by far the iPad. In fact, it was the ONLY reader I saw people carrying around. Even when people were just hanging out, I saw books, laptops and iPads. I wasn't able to ask how much they use the device for reading vs other stuff, like note taking while in the panels.
So what's it going to take to make ebooks more mainstream? I think a shift to a common ebook file format. Like what mp3 did for the music industry. The same magic needs to happen to ebooks. Since its introduction, the iPad has forced changes to the ebook business. It has changed the price model for ebooks and has driven the prices of the Kindle down. Perhaps epub is the next mp3. Perhaps it's something Adobe is offering. Where ever it comes from, if we have a common format, we will all win in the end.
All in all, I think ebooks have their place, and I also think printed books also have there place. My hope is that more books become available in ebook format so my ebook shelf can continue growing.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Amazon.com has been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for the last 33 months. On Monday Amazon said that for the last three months, Kindle books have outnumbered sales of hardcover books at a ratio of 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books, including books that have no Kindle edition. Kindle sales are picking up speed too, in the last four weeks sales rose to 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover copies. It is said that the $189 price tag is the tipping point for growth.