Tuesday, 29 March 2011

10 Truths about E Publishing

E publishing has had an interesting couple of weeks recently. First there's been widespread coverage of self-publisher Amanda Hocking making a million on Kindle, then the Joe Konrath/Barry Eisler interview, where Barry Eisler reveals that he turned down a $500,000 deal with a publisher so he could self-publish, then the news has come out that Amanda Hocking has signed a $2,000,000 4-book deal with a publisher (by coincidence, the same publisher Eisler turned down. They're also my US publisher, though sadly they've never offered ME that sort of money.).

It seems to me there are some basic truths....

1. What one person wants from writing a book is not the same as another person. You may want kudos, she may want money, he may want validation. That's true whether you're talking about conventional publishing or e-publishing. Once you know what you really, deep down, want from your writing, it's easier to choose your route.

2. A lot of discussion around e-publishing has money at the centre.

3. A lot of the discussion around e-publishing that doesn't have money at the centre has control as the big issue.

4. And the third big area of discussion around e-publishing is the potential downfall of conventional publishing, especially the Big Six, which is often seen as a good thing. No one seems to talk about the rising power of the retailers - Amazon, Google, Apple et al - and the level of discounts they demand.

5. There's not much discussion about poor writing and how much of it there is out there.

6. Some people will get lucky with e-publishing, just as they do with conventional publishing, when other people won't. The quality of their writing may have little to do with their success or otherwise, although the genre probably will, as some genres of writing are already doing better in e-book format than others.

7. There seems to be a belief that there is a "right" price for an e-book. But no one can agree what it is.

8. Pricing is currently all important in getting an e-book into the Top 100 on Kindle, and if you're not in the Top 100 your sales are significantly reduced. Stephen Leather has written a blogpost about how he played around with pricing over Christmas.

9. You have to sell a lot of books at 99p or 99c to make anything like a living wage after the retailer has taken their cut, which may be as much as 70%.

10. What is true about e-publishing now will not be true in a year's time. It probably won't be true in 6 months time. Or even next week.

I'm not sure what's going to happen over the next couple of years, what I'm going to do and where I'm going to end up. I really want to be writing, rather than marketing, or publishing. And in that I think I'm like most authors.

NEW!!! I've finally got round to organising some course dates....
How to WRITE a Novel: London 3rd May/Birmingham 7th May/
Oxford 8th May/Exeter 21st May/Bath 12th June
How to SELL a Novel: London 24th May/Exeter 4th June/


rodgriff said...

Just thinking about the pricing issue. If you are lucky to be published on paper, you will probably end up with about 40 or 50 pence per book, all the rest of the price is overhead, on print, editing, paying your agent etc. If you self publish as an ebook and aim to get the same for yourself per book then it will market around a pound. The simple question for the author should be which will sell most. Will the loss of sales from a higher price be offset by more sales resulting from being quality controlled and marketed by the publishing house? It may be a long time befomre anyone can answer that question as no one seems to publish any data and some in the book trade positively discourage market research and any sort omf science (plenary session at last week's York conference as evidence).

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

These are timely observations. You sum up the difficulties for the author very well. As you suggest, the e-publishing market is growing and changing so fast it's very hard to know the rules (if there are any) and to conceive a marketing strategy. My own concern is that I do not want to be a vendor of poor quality material, nor be known as such. I want to earn from my work but I would prefer to continue with my search for an agent and publisher and achieve the level of quality required to be published on paper.

Jim Murdoch said...

A lot of food for thought here but I’d like to address #5. Something I read recently worried me and it wasn’t so much about the quality of e-book but the expectations of their readers. It’s their standards that are falling. This reminds me of what happened to films when videos first appeared, we started to get the straight-to-video film and I’m sure you’ve seen enough of them to get my point: the production values, the set design, special effects, acting was all below par and we simply learned to lower our standards to satisfy our demand because there weren’t enough mainstream films being made to keep us happy. I’m thinking here of specific genres like sci-fi and horror where you need a certain budget to produce anything half-decent. And yet over the years there have been decent films made on a pittance - Clerks jumps to mind – and I hope the same will happen with the e-book. I think it will always be the home to low-end fiction – I subscribe to a few blogs and I despair at what’s available – but all people need is a reliable source of information about what’s worth reading. Time for reviewers worldwide to step up.

Fiona Wren said...

Great post!

I think it's going to take a while for everything to shake out. It's packed with possibilities, but the pricing issue bothers me quite a bit. I think those selling their books at 99 cents (or pence) are undervaluing their work, and I'm not sure I buy the idea that by selling an ebook you can churn out that much more material. I hold similar values when it comes to my day job (I'm a freelance marketing writer) and while a higher hourly rate has cost me clients, I've landed higher quality projects in the end. I think the same holds true for just about anything you buy. Priced at $5, you may sell only a quarter of the books you'd sell at 99c, but earn almost the same. As you say, it really depends what you want from writing.

As for the marketing side - I suspect it's going to become harder and harder to get away from it as things progress.

Sarah Duncan said...

Rodgriff, I don't think which sells most IS the question, more, which is sustainable. I might be up for self-publishing 1 book, maybe 2, but I know that it's a tiring business and you have to keep on and on and on with the marketing and promoting as well as the writing. No wonder Amanda Hocking has passed the buck onto someone else.

Quality control is an issue for me as a reader. I don't have time to read everything, so I want the things I do read to be worthwhile. Right now, not everything published by main stream publishers is brilliant, but at least someone has done some filtering. Hope you achieve your aims Fiona.

The point about readers expecting less is really interesting Jim, and one I've been wondering about. I remember when The Da Vinci Code came out, lots of people said it was the best book they'd read, and then it turned out it was the ONLY book they'd read.

But will readers pay for quality? In my own genre over the past ten years I think standards have dropped and the quality of some of the books chosen for the Richard & Judy type promotions is poor IMO. I hope you're right, and quality pays in the long term.

rodgriff said...

Yes I agree Sarah, I guess a lot of this is about what you want to do as a writer. I just had the somewhat disheartening experience of being told by two agents at the writing conference at York that there was no market for medical thrillers, something I had just written. They both said my writing was good and said 'write something else.'
At a conference like that one does get the chance to converse face to face. I suspect if they had seen a normal submission then I would have got the usual note saying this is not for us, from which of course one can discover nothing.
I have enjoyed writing and editing the book and it's nice to get to the point where instead of saying that the writing is no good they turn down the genre.The value of that conversation, I guess, is that I needn't waste time on editing it over and over because it's not the writing that is being turned down. I do have to choose whether to put it in a cupboard in the hope that the genre comes back in fashion some day, or to market it myself on Kindle. So far I have sold over 50 as an ebook, without actually doing any marketing. Given that I don't have a massive publicity budget then a low price seems like the best bet.
I wrote the book because I want people to read it, so I would rather get volume than money, but then I have a decent pension and won't starve if I give it away.
I don't want to make it free because I think people are more likely to read something that they paid something for, even if the price is very cheap.
If anyone has read this far the book is called 'A Rag Doll Falling' and it is a medical thriller of sorts.

Sarah Duncan said...

If it's any consolation I was told something almost exactly the same by two agents. Didn't stop my book selling to 14 countries etc...

Is there another way you can frame the book to avoid the term Medical Thriller - if indeed the genre isn't selling. It's not my area so I don't know the nuances but thrillers seem perpetually popular so there must a selling genre out there. Good luck - and remember it's only 2 people's opinion. They could be wrong.

Phillipa said...

Sarah - I understand all your points and concerns about e publishing but for some authors - published and unpublished - the digital route may have become the only option. That goes for some multi-published, award winning and popular authors too.

Those options might be through self-publishing or via an e publisher. There are of course, e publishers of all scales and quality just as there are conventional publishers. Mainstream pubs are also very keen to make the most of the e-pub option.

As you say, we are in a major state of flux and I think it's worth exploring every option to discover the one that works best at getting your work in front of yout readership.

Sarah Duncan said...

It's good that there are choices, and that the markets have opened up somewhat - but it's also quite scary.

Every author will make their own decisions for each of their books - I've got a couple of ideas for non-fiction books. I think one will work very nicely with e publishing, the other would be best off going the traditional route.

Ian said...

I am a member of a small book group in southern apain - someone suggested next book 'a single in rome' - 5 (out of 10) read via e-devices as a rule - it works - if we can't access an e version we will move on to something else .... your move ....

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi Ian, I can see the problem, but it's up to my publishers not me. Pathetic answer, I know. Hope it doesn't stop you reading A Single to Rome!