Tuesday, January 26, 2010

E-books: What's the Big Deal?

From late 2009 to the present, the internet has been abuzz with the big news: e-books had arrived. People were buying more e-books than ever before. On Christmas Day 2009, e-tailing giant Amazon sold more e-books than physical books (probably due to the fact that the Kindle was the most gifted item that holiday season). E-book readers like the Kindle, Sony, and Barnes & Nobles nook had suddenly gained mass media attention. Publishing industry pros spread the news far and wide: hey, there might really be something to this e-book thing.

Is this news? Well, not exactly...

E-book publishers have been around for a long time, and have been doing a rather brisk business with the more tech-savvy reading crowd. Some of the most successful e-pubs have been established and operating profitably for five years or more. For the most part, romance and erotica rule the e-book market—but more mainstream genres are finding success in the e-book crowd. Ellora's Cave, one of the oldest and biggest e-book publishers, now publishes mainstream genres under their Cerridwen Press imprint. Harlequin Enterprises, a long-time giant in romance, has recently launched an e-imprint called Carina Press, which plans to publish many different genres in e-book format.

The big New York publishers, however, haven’t given much thought to e-books until quite recently. E-rights were barely a blip on the radar, until Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader started gaining steam, and more people started paying attention to e-books – particularly availability and pricing issues. E-book owners began questioning big publishers who weren’t putting out e-versions of their favorite authors and titles. There is an ongoing war on e-book pricing, and a few major publishers decided to delay the release of e-versions until well after hardcover releases. Random House instituted policies on e-book rights for backlist titles, which many agents declared a massive rights grab – agent Kristin Nelson discusses the RH e-rights saga here and here.

Some authors, including a handful of big names, are now breaking from their publishers on the issue of e-books and basically self-publishing e-versions of their successful and backlist titles. Steven Covey, bestselling business author of acclaimed Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, granted exclusive e-book rights to Amazon, a move which provided him with far higher royalties than a commercial publisher. A number of bestselling authors in Britain are also branching out into self-epublishing.

J.A. Konrath, a popular and solid-selling New York published mystery and horror writer, has run numerous experiments on e-book publishing, from giving away his older, never-before-published works for free or at low cost as e-books, to offering e-versions of his backlist titles and some of his short stories again at fractional cost for the reader. He details his earnings on these self-epubbed titles on his blog. Konrath also has several predictions for the e-book market in 2010.

But does this mean every writer is going to be able to get rich and famous by jumping on the e-book bandwagon? Not necessarily. With an audience already developed, there is obviously a greater chance of success for authors who’ve achieved commercial publication.

So. How can we not-so-famous writers get in on the digital revolution? Here are some pointers to help you navigate the changing world of e-books and e-publishing, and hopefully come out ahead of the game.

1. Not all e-publishers are created equal. Just like with print publishers, there are some e-giants, some smaller but talented e-publishers, and some outright scams. Look for objective information on digital publishers before you sign a contract to have your e-book published. Sites like Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware, and Absolute Write have extensive information on publishers both e- and print. You can also contact some of the authors that are currently published through the e-press you’re considering and find out whether they’re happy with the experience. Remember that publisher reputation is one of the most important factors in volume of sales.

2. The DIY Dilemma. Planning to self-publish through Kindle, Lulu or Smashwords? Know that you’ll have to shoulder all the marketing responsibility yourself, just as you would with a self-published print book. However, online promotion is generally inexpensive (and often free), and a patient, determined author can build a presence that will get people checking out their work online.

3. Know your market. The fact is, erotica outsells every other genre in e-book form by a landslide. If you already write erotica, great! You’re ahead of the game. If you don’t, there is still a growing portion of folks just discovering e-books and e-readers who are looking for other genres. The trick is to build a following, which takes time and effort – get people looking for your name, and they’ll be more likely to check out your e-releases.

4. Don’t expect instant fame and fortune. The Internet may be the harbinger of the age of instant gratification, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to suddenly discover you and praise your work the moment you toss an e-book out into the ether. There are millions of entertainment choices online, and yours is just one more. It’s not impossible to get attention, but it takes time to build a following (see point #3). Be patient.

5. Write the best damned book you can. This is the most important thing any writer can do, ever. Whether you’re print or e-publishing, put out your best effort and make your work shine. It’s the only thing a writer has full control over. Don’t use the excuse “it’s only an e-book” to write sub-standard fiction just for the sake of getting it out there. E-book readers expect the same quality as their print-reading counterparts. Don’t disappoint them.

That’s all for today, folks!


Shirley said...

I went back and forth over the holidays on whether or not I wanted a Kindle. I decided I didn't. Then yesterday my boss was bragging about the Kindle she received for Christmas. She didn't think she'd like it, but she said she loves it.

She's bringing it into work on Wednesday so I can see it. You know, I think I may want one now!

Now to learn more about the ebook market and ezines!!

Marta Stephens said...

Wow, SW, this is a fantastic article!! My novels have always been available in both print and e-books (PDF), but only recently they've been formated to download to the hand-held readers. Since they've been available through smashwords, I've received a ton of daily Google Alerts on my books. I'll be interested to see if the e-books have had any impact on sales.

Thanks so much for this!!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Ditto, SW, I LOVE this article! Thanks so much for your insight - although my books are available in Kindle compatible, etc. formats, I've never really understood the marketing nuances. I'm bookmarking this one!

Kim Smith said...

Thank you thank you thank you for saying it all in one concise post. As a totally e-published author (for now anyway!) I'd like to see this trend of ebooks making news.