A Vote For Ebooks

Last weekend, I attended the monthly meeting of the local branch of the California Writer’s Club. The meetings feature introductions, socializing over a buffet lunch, and a speaker. This month we tried something new. Members were invited to throw out a question or concern. The rest of the group had five minutes to offer suggestions.

A man at my table had finished writing a fantasy novel and was wrestling with whether to try to get it traditionally published or go the self-publishing route in ebook format. Quite a few members weighed in, including unpublished, traditionally published, and self-published writers. Several others present provide marketing and design services for writers. What struck me was that everyone who spoke, without exception, urged the questioner to go the ebook route.

Several people pointed out that nowadays, successful ebook sales are an alternate route to acceptance by traditional publishers, a message we heard at an agent’s workshop last winter, and one that is underscored by the deal Amanda Hocking made with St. Martin’s Press. Others mentioned the amount of time it takes to see one’s work in print even after winning acceptance by one of the big six publishers. This underscored the author’s comment that, “At my age, I don’t have unlimited time.” One of those who provide marketing services for writers emphasized the need for a plan to publicize one’s work regardless of how your book gets published.

Even ten years ago, “self-publishing” was synonymous with “vanity press.” No longer. Not one person in the room raised the issue of “legitimacy,” one of the draws of traditional publishing before the recent spate of ebook success stories. Now, to paraphrase The Godfather, everyone who spoke felt the decision was, “just business.”

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6 Responses to A Vote For Ebooks

  1. Amy Rogers says:

    I’m sorry I couldn’t make the meeting, sounds great. Epubbing my thriller Petroplague was not my first choice, but I’m happy I did. Clearly there are some disadvantages, but the timeliness of publication and the superior ebook royalties make up for most of them. Also, epub is not synonymous with self-publishing. There are full-service, non-fee-charging digital publishers (like Diversion Books, my publisher) who are traditional in most ways except the format of the book. They can do ebooks for a much lower cost than paper, and so can publish titles that might not sell enough copies to sustain a print run.

    I think the trad publishers are still needed but they will have to become more nimble and offer a better royalty split to authors on digital works.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Amy.

      As far as traditional publishers becoming more nimble – in early 2007, I attended one of the better known writer’s conferences, and sat in on a session with an editor in the field of adult fantasy/sci-fi. He said the majority of publishers in his genre were simply unwilling to risk new authors as long as they had their “stable” of writers guaranteed to sell. He suggested that the best odds of breaking in were to make a name for yourself in another genre or with short stories – and this was in pre-recession, pre-demise-of-Borders days.

      At the same conference, in a round-table, another traditional agent suggested that publishing was somehow going to have to change if it wanted to stay relevant as new technologies emerged – and at the time, he was talking of POD. Ebooks were not yet on everyone’s radar.

      It seems to me that the odds have grown a lot longer for people trying to get a start since then.

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  2. be awake says:

    i had a huge dilemma if i should publish my first book as an ebook. finally, i decided to do it. unfortunately, in poland (from where i come) ebook’s business is a beginner. i think, it’ll be good to be available when the market will develop. many writers may not like it, but world is changing. we can think about it as a progress or regress but it’s always just a change.

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    • Thanks for your comment. Being one of the first in Poland may be difficult now, but it also makes you a pioneer, which may be an advantage later, because new technology like this is going to continue to grow everywhere.

      In the US at present, writers are getting squeezed from two directions. With major publishers watching their finances closely, it’s harder for someone to get a break if they are not likely to be a big seller at Walmart. On the other hand, so many ebooks are being published – I heard an estimate of 3 million next year – that readers are understandably confused about which new authors to look at. Again, it’s a situation that does not favor people starting out. Heck, I’d probably buy an ebook from Stephen King rather than me!

      A very fine ebook author I reviewed here, Amy Rogers, worked with a publisher who combines ebooks with print availability, and also has agents as gatekeepers. It sounds like it may be a combination of old and new that will allow a better guarantee of quality writing to potential readers. Stay tuned, because Ms. Rogers is writing a guest post for this blog that will present her experience and decision making process in more detail.

      You are right though – change is the only thing we can be sure of in the publishing industry at this time. I wish you all the best with your book!

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  3. Rosi says:

    Sorry I missed that meeting. Sounds like a good one. I’m still not quite ready to go the e-book route with Freddy, but am considering it with my first book. Food for thought, as usual with your posts.

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    • I think you stand a very good chance of landing Freddy with a traditional publisher. A beautifully written adventure, off the beaten track, polished with the help of a seasoned editor – it has a whole lot going for it. Aside from personal hopes for you, I am also looking at your progress with Freddy as a kind of litmus test of the viability of traditional publishing’s ability to sort out really fine work these days.

      Ebooks are certainly no panacea. I forget the exact estimate of new titles that will be released next year – I think it was 3 million. The situation becomes, yes you can get your book published, but who will read it? Not a single one of the very successful ebook authors calls it an easy road.

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