e-Books From an Author's Point of View

29 Comments

The concept of the virtual book has finally captured the reading public’s imagination thanks to portable and convenient devices such as the Kindle, Nook, iPad and Kobo. e-books aren’t new. They’ve been around for a decade or so in some form or another, but the convenience and portability of the current crop of e-readers has caused a massive shift in attitudes. Amazon (s amzn) and Barnes & Noble (bks) can probably thank the digital music revolution and everyone’s reliance on multifaceted smartphones for the acceptability of virtual content. The upshot is the e-book has arrived and it’s here to stay.

Naturally, the popularity of e-books has a lot of people worried. Should this format take over as the dominant medium for books, publishers will be forced to re-examine their place in the world. And if publishers suffer, so do the writers. The problem is even more worrying for bookstores, which face redundancy with the demise of the printed book.

So as a midlist author, what does all this mean to me? Change, but change I can work with. I’ve seen a lot of side-taking amongst my writing brethren. You’re either sticking with a dead technology or you’re part of a brave new world. Personally, I don’t see why I have to pick a side. Maybe I’m greedy, but why can’t I have both? I view e-books the same way I view audio books or foreign translations: They’re another revenue stream. To choose one over another seems a little short-sighted. If the public demands e-books, print books and audio books, I want my stories in all those formats. e-books are a new source of income for me, so I love ‘em, and no less than any other format that my books are currently published in.

So, I’ve embraced e-books for a number of reasons. First off, e-publishing has a very low barrier to entry. I don’t have to deal with a printer, distribution, getting into stores, or returns, nor do I need access to a recording studio to produce an audio book. All I have to do is format the manuscript to meet the needs of the various e-book-reading devices, and can have an e-book-ready manuscript in a couple of hours. The only real cost comes in the form of cover art, and that’s not much of a hardship. Even if I’m purchasing stock images or commissioning original artwork, I can pull together a professional-looking product for under $100.

Secondly, I don’t need a publisher for an e-book. As a midlist author, I’m used to having to play a number of roles and managing my e-book portfolio isn’t a hardship, especially when I can reap the reward of a larger royalty. Thirdly, I get to utilize a sizeable backlist that would be gathering dust under normal circumstances. I possess a number of out-of-print works that aren’t financially viable for a new print run, but are viable to resurrect as e-books. The same applies to stories where the electronic rights haven’t been utilized. I’d be a fool not to embrace e-book publishing.

I don’t really know where the e-book revolution will go. It might be a tougher proposition to replace the printed book than people might think. I believe printed books will be around for some time. There’s probably going to be even more consolidation among the publishers, which will limit places for midlist authors, but even that’s not the end of the world. It might not be financially viable for the big publishing houses to support midlisters, but that isn’t to say there isn’t profit to be made. Advances in technology when it comes to book manufacturing and audio production means it’s pretty cost-effective to produce a print book or an audio book. Orphaned writers might want to take a leaf out of W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks’ collective book when they created United Artists and formed author cooperatives to produce their own print, audio and e-books. The potential is there.

And before anyone gets too complacent about e-books, who’s to say that in five years something else won’t come along make the e-book redundant? That’s technology.

The e-book revolution might affect the publishing industry with devastating consequences, but the important thing for me to do as a writer is roll with the punches. The one constant in all this change is that the world will always need storytellers regardless of the medium.

Simon Wood has had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. His latest works are “Terminated” and “Asking for Trouble.”

29 Comments

Beth

How does an author know how many copies of their eBook have sold? There doesn’t seem to be any transparency to the process?

Amadán Mór

Interesting article. It is one of the chief benefits of epublishing that writers can find new readers and revenue streams. They deserve that financial boost.
Two things concern me with ebooks. Firstly formatting. Look at the history of the printing press, type setting and graphic design. Most book creation tools out there have rewound that by about twenty years. The various ebook platforms out there make it very difficult to make something that consistently looks good or even presentable and this is important.
Secondly, the ebook market is saturated with content. This content varies greatly in quality and anything goes. Before I published my ebook I sent it to a copy editor. This was a valuable process that many bypass.
I also realised that my subject matter had a narrow audience so made it free. I would rather reach that audience than make money. However, the absence of professional criteria has made it difficult for the reader to find new, quality writing electronically.
The big plus, as you point out, is the availability of out of print texts. My tastes so often lie in this category.

edward d

Thanks for mentioning the design element of print books.

I’d love it if an eBook came in two modes: 1) Designed by a designer (choice of typeface, position of page breaks, placement and style of page numbers, footnotes, etc.) and 2) a plain text version that the eBook reader can have it way with (increasing point size, choosing a font, etc.).

The book-as-object-d’art can continue into the digital realm if attention is paid to design.

As a writer and graphic designer, I respect both the story and the presentation.

Seth Gershel

Simon:

Good piece. The writing is the “book” while the format is just the delivery vehicle. Who cares how it gets to the reader as long is it is in a way that they can enjoy?! The rest is just window dressing…interesting yes, but not core.

Thanks,
SETH
ps: Audiobooks is one word.

Andrew Burt

All true today, but bear in mind how fast the ebook hardware is evolving. If there were an ebook reading device that was exactly like a paper book is — hundreds of sheets of digital paper, each displaying one page, as thin as paper, feeling like paper, bound at the spine (“codex” format, vs. a “scroll”), in various different sizes, and pretty cheap (cheap enough you wouldn’t cry if broken, you’d just buy another) — then, under those circumstances, there would be little need for tree-paper books. The technology to do that more or less already exists, but it’s still too pricey. The price falls exponentially, however, so this kind of device could exist, as I said above, between now and say 2025.

Ebook reading may gain “paper replacement” acceptance sooner than that, but at the point when you can make a cheap “codex” type reader, digital reading will certainly overtake paper. In fact, we might just start calling it “paper”, except it would be “digital ink” instead of toner, as it were. We might even just call them “books,” even though they’re digital and could display any book. (So that end, I think the term “ebook” is just a transitional term; my prediction is eventually the technology will be digital, but we’ll call it a “book.” Just as “phone” is beginning to replace the term “cell phone.”)

For an example, consider DVDs. LaserDiscs came out in the 80s and were roughly the same thing as DVDs, but different in various ways (e.g. bigger). LaserDiscs didn’t catch on then, BUT come 1997, the DVD comes out, which is just a better LaserDisc, and within a mere three years the DVD had overtaken VHS for movie sales. When the right ebook reader device comes out, it could replace paper very rapidly. And we know what at least one format of device is that would do the trick — the one that acts exactly like a paper book, just has digital ink. (If not some device(s) before that, then that. I’m already converted to pure ebook reading with my various devices, like my blackberry, my ipaq, my eee-pc, and my wife got an ipad and she hasn’t touched a paper book since.)

So, mainly, my point is don’t judge the ebook reader technology of next year (or next month) based on what you see today. Meanwhile, ebooks and paper books can coexist. But anyone who doesn’t at least make a “worst case” contingency plan for digital replacing trees is foolish. And those who plan accordingly can profit from it. :)

Margaret Tanner

Great blog, and so true. As a multi-published e-book author, I don’t see any reason why print and e-books can’t run side by side and compliment each other.

Cheers

Margaret

Tonya

Great points from an author’s point of view. From an early childhood teacher point of view, I love the idea of e-books but do not forsee them replacing them for young children. Here is my blog post and comments from a few other early childhood folks: http://earlyliteracycounts.blogspot.com/2010/08/will-e-books-gulp-ever-replace.html

Also, PBS Parents posted my blog on their Facebook Page so parents have a similar perspective: http://www.facebook.com/pbsparents?ref=mf

It’s interesting how we all have different and valid points of view!

simon wood

Tonya,

That’s something I’ve been wondering. Ebooks aren’t a one-size fits all solution. That’s why I don’t think the book is going away any time fast. The graphic novel doesn’t work well in e-format, although the iPad might have something.

simon

Andrew Burt

“The one constant in all this change is that the world will always need storytellers regardless of the medium.”

Agreed — and there are other axioms in the future of publishing as well, e.g., people will continue to get a certain benefit from reading (for information or enjoyment), there will continue to be filters that help readers find reading material, and a number of other axioms that I’ve described in more detail at http://critique.org/futurepub.ht .

I’m one of those who thinks digital reading will replace paper reading within a few years. (I’ve been saying “by 2015-2025” for many years now, and I think we still seem on target for that. As Random House mentioned the other day, they thought, conservatively, they could hit the 50% mark of revenue from ebooks by, I think they said, 2015.)

Much of the work publishers do for print books either goes away for digital books (printing, shipping) or can be done by other entities (filtering for quality, editing, layout, marketing). Publishers have a leg up as the source of those latter functions, but aren’t the only ones who can provide those services, so they’ll have to be competitive or go the way of the buggy whip maker.

It will all come down to money — who can deliver more of it to the author. :)

So far, traditional publishers are the only ones who seem willing to “put their money where their mouth is”, by paying advances to authors — i.e., having the confidence in their ability to sell the work to readers that they can pay up front. That kind of assumption of the risk (vs. pure royalty paying publication) means they will (try to) apply filters to it, for quality and salability. Which is both good and bad, especially since perceived profitability will trump quality.

But if there’s a way for authors to earn money it’ll get found, and the barriers to entry are way lower digitally, which is generally good for everyone.

Especially the more money for authors part. :)

simon wood

Jonathan and Andrew, you bring up some interesting points. I’m not here to say the print book is dead. I still don’t quite it see it happening any time soon, but I can’t help but think the publishing industry dropped the ball when it came to ebooks. It tried to shun them instead of addressing them. It’s obvious the public is on board and so are authors. At the moment, things are in flux. It’s my interests to handle my own ebook interest. If publishers treat ebooks like the commodity they’ve become and offer advances and competitive royalties, the industry will find its feet again. But this is only scratching the suface. There’s a ton of issues at stake here that need to be addressed.

Jonathan Schacter

Simon,

Your last point is right to the point. As a creator of content, it is delivering your story that should matter. ideally, the content that you create should be ideally be available in all mediums so that I as a reader can choose the means that suits me best.

While I think that the demise of the physical book will not come anytime soon, for me and millions of others, digital books whether eBooks or audiobooks are my medium of choice.

As for book publishers, they will have to keep up with the times or be left behind. Clearly, to this point, they seem to be clinging to old and comfortable revenue models rather than being creative and evolutionary.

Tom

“Secondly, I don’t need a publisher for an e-book. As a midlist author, I’m used to having to play a number of roles and managing my e-book portfolio isn’t a hardship, especially when I can reap the reward of a larger royalty.” – Ah, the modern world. All the workings, efforts and benefits of a publishing house, rooted in years of experiance and tradition, dismissed in two short sentences. Never mind. I do like your article, though.

Charbax

How many ebooks do you sell? How many % does Amazon or other ebook sellers provide to you? How many % does the publisher keep? At which point does a publisher retain rights to your ebooks?

justin bryan

I am agree with article points, now ebooks reading are increased rapidly after the new portable devices introduces. Thanks to sharing your points with us.

George

Great to read a perspective on e-book technology from an author. As a reader, I buy hard cover books once in while, paperbacks more often, and go to the library sometimes. I also pay for newspapers and magazines.

I’m waiting for someone (a “next-gen” publisher?) to figure out how to give me a eBook machine for some kind of monthly/annual aggregate spend.

Pinay

Pros:
1. Portability
2. If you want to find something. You can just hit the search button.
3. cheaper
4. Infinite lifespan
5. you can have several backups
Cons
1. Piracy
2. if the battery of your device drained it’s over
3. I love the smell of books. period!

zisel

I love my iPad. It has almost completely replaced my personal computer. For the things I do… It is perfect!
e-booke is my favorite one.
You can see the details in “iFunia ipad Column”.

simon wood

I agree with you, Don. I don’t believe that ebooks will take over as the dominant reading format as swiftly as being predicted by others, and I said as much. Like I said in the article, I view ebooks as an additional revenue stream, not a replacement. Should print books disappear, I have something to work with. If they don’t disappear, it’s business as usual for me.

don

More in royalties? If the number of print copies is substantially reduced due to its being available digitally, and if the amount of money each digital copy generates since it does, after all, not require paper and printing to publish it, your revenue might be less than you would expect.

From what I’ve been reading. many people still prefer the ‘feel’ and ‘smell’ of paper. It may be some time before the balance swings in favor of digital.

Viv

Great article thank you. As bright shiny new ebook authors we can only be encouraged by your perceptions regarding the future of ebooks.

Hug after Blooming Hug
Sherry and Margarita

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