Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Musings: Winds Of Change, Then And Now

Sorry, I'm late folks. Life seems to get in the way sometimes.

I was such a newbie in 2006 when I started writing fiction again and in 2007 when I began querying. I had no contact with writers or industry rags other than the guides to agents and the buying market.

You can imagine the shock to my system when I became part of the online writing community and came face to face with all I DIDN’T know. But I was willing to learn and I had some great industry teachers take me under their wing. I came to realize how little I knew and if I wanted to succeed on this playing field I needed to learn everything I could. So I started to use my training in marketing and promotion to do research.

THEN publishing was on the cusp of change. The industry giants were seeing major losses in profits. My research showed me trends and possibilities. If you followed the dangling threads you could see some sure paths that the future would take. Digital printing was one of those paths and wasn’t going to go away and e-books were an offshoot of that technology. Using techie gadgets and e-readers was on the rise. Not that printed books were going to disappear but the format in which they would be made available would have to change.

The cost effectiveness of Print On/to Demand would have to be utilized by major publishers if they were to stay in business. Even using the new technology they couldn’t be profitable if they used it to produce books in the “old” way they had for the past hundred years or so. They had to change. Reality was and IS (Then and Now, traditional publishers were in the best position (a better one than the small independent publishers springing up everywhere at the time) to make the most of this technology because they had the editing, art departments, connections, and publicity/promotion staff already in place. If they could leave the old business model behind and adapt to the new and make it work for them.

Traditional anything has a hard time with the concept of change.

I remember writing a series of articles on e-publishing and digital formats about, oh, three years ago and before I had a blog (although those articles were published online). I had done a lot of research on digital technology and print to demand. My research showed me that digital was the way of the future. A digital file was the book and then went to print runs and to brick and mortar stores via mass market. I felt that books via print on demand were the future.

In one article I wrote, E-publishing, Print on Demand, and Kindle Markets–Are They The Wave Of The Future? (October 6, 2008) I said,

“How many of you have really considered publishing with print on demand publishers or places like Kindle? It’s the wave of the future, I’m sure. One good indication of that is the hoopla with Amazon and e-books. Most major publishing houses have an e-publishing section because of reading the trends are leaning heavily in that direction. Big publishers, like Harlequin, have had downloadable stories, for a small price, for some time. I rather think they saw the handwriting on the wall and were testing out the market for e-publishing. They now offer some of their author’s print books through e-publishing and other authors are strictly e-published”

A benefit of e-publishing, is a bigger share of royalties for the author, than with a traditional publisher–but not advances–as a rule. Your work is out there, but not necessarily on the local bookstore shelves like you pictured in your mind. You have to be willing to promote yourself and your writing...via blogs, websites, and social networks. Authors have to do that regardless of the medium, but the marketing is pretty much on you rather than assistance from a publisher.”

Oh my god, I was preaching heresy, then. Or so you would have thought, based on some comments and a few diatribes from writers I received. Some were very receptive to the idea and had a far seeing eye and agreed. To add extra feathers to the tar applied, I mentioned that there was a big difference between self-publishing/vanity press and e-books. Vanity press was “where the author paid someone to print their book and not always a good quality of book either in writing style or subject matter.”

I mentioned in another article, Print On Demand Technology vs. Traditional, 2/21/09,

“…Traditional publishing comes with a certain amount of respect for you as an author. You’ve made it through the filters—agents or publishers—and been given a contract. This says your writing quality and story has passed the test to be accepted. You will have at your disposal an editing staff and copy editors to read through and tighten up the quality of writing and story content. You may have several revisions to get the manuscript at its best. Editing staff will also catch errors, insure the book looks professional as far as format. Traditional publishers also provide professional cover designers to put out a cover that will draw readers… Then there is the publicity team to help you promote the book and yourself as an author…

You may choose to go this route (e-books) because you want to write certain style of book that isn’t considered sellable by agents or [traditional] publishers—NOT because your writing quality is poor, or you haven’t good story telling abilities. You might want to have more control over your books and any profits generated.

Whatever your reason is, there are things to consider. [As a new writer] one option might be choosing an [established] e-book publisher with filters in place–submission guide lines, editors, designers, and promotion/marketing departments with the capability of providing readers with a print book (trade paperbacks) if they so choose.”

These are still valid points today.

Then authors used e-publishing to hone their skills as a writer and build a reader base and got traditional publishing contracts later. A couple of authors who come to mind are Donna Grant and Cheyenne McCray. They brought an established track record with them when they got published with traditional publishers.

Now I’m seeing a trend of successful established, traditionally published authors going the opposite way. Self-publishing e-books, but these are authors with years of writing experience and a knowledge of the publishing field along with a solid reader base. Some are publishing their stories as e-books with trade paperbacks for print but will still have the use of a professional editor and or cover designer (some like Connie Brockway, was a graphic designer) to make their books looks professional and be competitive.

As you read the loops and blogs you see that some of these authors are choosing this route because, as Connie Brockway puts it, they are “completely free to write the stories I most want to read. And, I sincerely believe, that my readers most want to read.”

A debut author isn’t going to have the same success as some of these established authors, even with an internet presence, but will have time to slowly build a following. The good thing about e-books, as Joe Konrath says, “…[the] virtual shelf life is forever…ebooks are forever. Once they're live, they will sell for decades.”

Another reason established authors are looking to self-publishing their e-books is purely business. As Connie Brockway puts it, “It doesn’t take too much business acumen to look at recent eBook sales history and project that eBook readers aren’t going to pony up the same amount for an eBook, that exists only as a virtual entity, as a paper book which costs substantially more to produce (printing, shipping, warehousing, distribution, covers etc.) Or if they do, they aren’t going to do it often. And if the publishers set the price too high, it’s the authors that lose the most. I hate losing. ”

Joe Konrath says it even better, “with digital you have the option to put an ebook on sale. I originally self-published The List in April of 2009. It went on to sell 25,000 ebooks at $2.99. Now, two years later, I lowered the price, and it's selling 1500 copies a day. Things like that don't happen in paper. But in self-publishing, I'm seeing more and more books take their sweet time finding an audience, then take off.”

Again, these are established authors with a following but the points they make with their decision to self-pub e-books is a compelling one. New or debut authors won’t have the advantage these two have with a dedicated following but at least the show you can develop one. I concur with both with regard to price. I’m not going to spend the price of a paper book on an e-book or if I do, it’s going to be few and far between. I’ll choose those e-books that are reasonably priced and most I purchase are under five dollars. I don’t see the sense of paying full boat for a kindle book. Hopefully the traditional publishers will get the message.

I have to laugh when I see this turn about. Then and Now. What a difference a few years makes, eh?

  • What do you think of these developments?


Stacy S. Jensen said...

I am enjoying the conversation. The price point issue has been fascinating. I don't have an e-reader yet, but it's interesting how some folks want to pay less for an e-book than the cost of a magazine. It certainly seems that the stigma of self-publishing is disappearing as this debate continues.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Stacy, I'm glad to see the stigma disappearing too.

I don't want to see the books slashed too much but I do think paying 7.99 plus is a bit much to pay for and e-book.

I have a kindle and I love it. I think the whole point of the dialog is lower the price of the e-books to under the price of the printed books.

Stacy S. Jensen said...

I'm hoping for an e-reader for my birthday and then, I'll get a better handle on the price point. I guess it's like a paperback vs. hardback. I don't expect to pay as much for a paperback.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia .. I think that's great .. there is so much choice now - and opportunities .. the author just needs to decide which route they want to follow ..

.. ebooks mean you can start local too .. no need to do too much .. find the audience and then word of mouth will take the book to new spheres ..

I haven't got an ereader .. but I can see what's happening .. it's very interesting .. thanks Sia .. and good for you for being so aware and interested in developments back then & now .. cheers Hilary

Laurie C. said...

I'm very excited about the e-publishing phenomenon. Sure, there will be a lot of truly awful work out there, but there will be a lot of truly phenomenal work out there, too, that never would have seen the light of day in a traditional publishing house.

Thanks for an excellent column!

Olivia Cunning said...

I just got a Kindle. I wasn't sure if I'd like it. I'm one of those book hoarders who like to sniff pages and stroke covers.

The verdict? I LOVE my Kindle. Love that I can change the width of the column and the size of the text. I can speed read on it. And it's very intuitive w/page turning. So I'll keep some physical books around to stroke and sniff when I need a fix, but I think I'll be buying mostly digital books in the future.

As for the price point? I suggested to my publisher that they lower the price on my debut. Having it at $13.99 was really hurting sales. Luckily, they listened (sorta) and dropped it to $8.99 and my sales have increase a lot. Publishers fear if they lower their prices that it will a) hurt their hardback sales and b) readers will get used to paying little for books. I say I'd rather sell 1000 copies at $5 than 500 copies at $10. The profit is the same, but you have more readers who will hopefully pick up your next book. My 2 cents...

Helen Ginger said...

I think it's terribly exciting and, in a way, scary. So much to learn! So much to do! But it does seem to be the wave of the future. At least until they figure out a way to zap a book directly into your brain. Hey, don't laugh. Who, twenty years ago, would have thought we'd be reading eBooks?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Helen, my poor brain couldn't handle it, lolol!

I enjoyed reading what Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath had to say about ebooks vs paper. A lot of good points.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Olivia, like you, I'm a major book hoarder. I haven't had the time to equip my office with all the shelving for a library. I've done it in the past. As it is I have at least four 6'x4' bookcases full and at least 15 boxes of packed books I've collected. Sticking point with hubs, especially when we were active duty. Something about carrying around four naval trunks full of books.

I love my kindle. It was my gift to myself this year. I also love the fact I can carry a miniature library with me where ever I go and it's not at all awkward to read in bed--unlike a laptop.

VA said...

This whole area is under contention, I'm just waiting for the players to fall and see the path. As a paper sniffer, I have to admit that I've been reading more and more digitally and as soon as I psychologically make the transition 99% of paper books will be gone. Reference, display, and treasure will be what remains of the old guard.

Talli Roland said...

Things are changing so quickly that it's hard to know WHAT to think of everything! Of course I'm excited by the potential for ebooks - I've had an amazing experience with Kindle so far. But as for the future...w who knows? These are definitely exciting times.

Angela Ackerman said...

It is crazy to see all this change, but I think all we can do is continue to work hard to build our craft and write the best book we can. Then hopefully through one avenue or another, we'll reach our readers. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf muse

Other Lisa said...

I still don't have an E-Reader. I'm hesitant to commit to a Kindle because that also commits me to one retailer, and I'm not sure that's a good or healthy thing for the industry. On the other hand, it has the best selection. I dunno.

I tend to think that E-Readers will increase the size of the marketplace rather than merely cannibalizing paper sales. People who own them buy more books, period. As for pricing, I think anything under 9.99 is reasonable, and that basically they should be priced around a mass market paperback. If you're self-publishing, then I think a little lower.

The 99 cent thing scares me. I would not publish at that price. I think it devalues what we do, and the idea that a book should cost the same as a song on iTunes I think is a false equivalence.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

I love the surge in digital books - I love paperbacks, sure, but I also love the convenience of ebooks. I would much rather carry around one device that can hold hundreds of books than the books themselves :)

I also love it as an author. I am still finding my way with the issue of pricing, but agree that I'd rather price my books reasonable and sell more than higher and sell fewer (none). Price was a big reason I went on my own recently, however like Other Lisa above I do not think that all ebooks have to be .99 to find an audience. Regardless of the medium, stories take time and effort to write.

SM Johnson said...

Sia, you said it, back in the day! I don't have a Kindle, but I do have a Sony Touch. I like it, and although I still love a printed book, I buy more electronic books than I ever have bought paperbacks or hard-covers.

As an author of paperbacks with one publisher and ebooks with another, I can definitely say my ebook sales have been the highest. My paperback publisher is a small press, and the books are POD (Print on Demand) versus large, expensive print runs... which is fine with me, but the cover price is prohibitive, and I am convinced that that, more than anything, is not good for sales.

So meanwhile... I am nagging my paperback publisher to get my books out in an electronic format. I truly believe ebooks are the mass paperbacks of the future.