Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, I’m sure you’ve heard about the dramatic changes happening in the publishing industry. Independent and chain bookstores are closing at an alarming rate. Borders, the second largest U.S. bookstore chain, recently filed for bankruptcy and went out of business. Sales of hardcover books are down 40%. Editors at the Big 6 houses are reserving contracts for their big moneymaking authors, as the mid-list shrinks. The current situation has become so dire that Huffington Post, the Internet newspaper, now includes “bookstore obituaries” as a regular feature.
At the same time, the sale of e-books is up 400%.
Nine years ago, when I started writing, my only goal was to get an agent and sign with a New York publisher. During the first few years of my writing career, I had conversations with writers that had or were considering self-publishing their books. The idea of handling the details of publishing my own book turned me off to say the least. I knew self-published books couldn’t get shelf space in the major book chains. Many reviewers wouldn’t review them, and I’d heard stories about authors ending up stuck with boxes of unsold books stacked in their garage. No way did I want any part of that.
Fast forward to 2007. The first rumblings had begun about Amazon.com’s newest electronic gadget – the Kindle e-reader. At that time no one, except perhaps for Jeff Bezos himself, imagined this little gadget would be the game changer in an industry already plagued by antiquated policies and procedures, ridiculously long wait times between contract and release, decreasing sales, and increasing competition from tablets, smartphones, video games, DVDs and all things electronic.
As an author trying to break into the business, I kept my ear to the ground, fascinated by what I was hearing about the possibility of getting my books directly into the hands of readers. I submitted to editors and agents for several years and even signed with two well-known agents but received no offers. The whole process had begun to wear me down.
By 2009, with Kindle dominating the e-book market, authors were beginning to take notice, and many had taken the plunge into the electronic world. The financial perks of direct e-pubbing were a definite lure, along with the fact that e-books are eternal. They have no limited on shelf life like paper books, which eventually go out of print.
Traditional publishers generally pay authors 6-17% of the cover price of their books. E-publishers like Kindle offered 35% at the outset and subsequently raised that royalty rate to 70% for all books selling for $2.99 or more. The increase in electronic books has sparked a very loud and fierce debate among readers, writers. Many in the publishing industry stand by the necessity for gatekeepers (editors and agents) to protect readers from an in influx of bad books. Those on the other side of the debate insist that gatekeepers aren’t necessary, because readers are smart enough to determine for themselves what is good and bad. They believe, as I do, that what’s good will sell and what’s bad won’t. Simple.
The other debate increasing in intensity is what I call “the cold, dead handers” versus the “e-people.” These are the folks who staunchly declare that their paper books will have to be pried from their cold, dead hands before they switch to electronic reading. They melodramatically pontificate about the feel and smell of paper books and fight anything hinting of electronic progress.
Personally, I don’t think books will disappear completely, but as I look back at my vinyl albums, 8-track tapes and cassettes packed away in the garage, I’m not so sure. What is important is the ability of authors to be able to sell their stories to readers. It’s the words that make the story, not the paper they’re printed on. All of the current flap about the smell and feel of books will eventually fizzle out. Honestly, when was the last time you saw anybody sniffing and hugging a vinyl LP with tears in their eyes? Change is hard for some, but change will eventually come whether we like it or not. We might as well embrace it and enjoy it.
In July 2010, I took the plunge and joined the ranks of electronic authors and published my debut novel directly to Kindle and Nook. I have since released three of my previously written novels with another due out in late December.
This is an exciting time for authors, but e-pubbing isn’t for the faint of heart. This isn’t a deal where you simply take your Word manuscript from your hard drive and toss it into cyberspace. The preparation is very much the same as getting a paper book ready for release. Professional editing is a necessity. The quality of the cover is a determining factor in the success of the book. Formatting of the manuscript for each of the different e-book sites can test the patience of a saint. Promotion and marketing is a never-ending chore.
But for those writers with the fortitude to learn the language and requirements of this new market, the doors are wide open.
Dee here: I’d like to thank Chicki for being a guest blogger this month. She is a self-publishing queen and has always been very helpful to others. THANKS.
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