How to make your e-book the future

There has been a lot of buzz about e-publishing lately. It’s the future. It’s the death of print. It’s the death of the main publishers. Anybody can live the dream – just do it. Doubters? Get with the programme!

Personally I suspect it’s like the dot-com boom of the 1990s, the railway mania of the 1840s and half a dozen other bubbles. Huge enthusiasm at first – a polemic notion that this defines the future. And then, massive disappointment when the whole thing fails to generate the fantasy outcome. Eventually, the new tech falls into place alongside – and usually enhancing – the old. But not supplanting it completely.

A friend of mine – who writes novels – has had an object lesson in how the new self-publish market works. Typical e-book prices are down to around 99c a book – or free – on the back of the authors who’ll happily give away their stuff, just to get it out there. Amazon take 30 percent, leaving you with about 70 cents a copy. About half the ten percent royalty of a print book. But the Kiwi author then gets slugged for 40 percent tax, deducted at source for the IRS, and hit again with 30 percent New Zealand tax on the remainder if they haven’t got an IRS number. That is obtainable via instructions written in Linear B and through a system about as user-friendly as a lake of hungry alligators.

The other issue is getting sales. On average self-published e-books shift 100 copies or less in their lifetime. Half the time, it’s chance. Yes, there are Cinderella stories. Yes, using social networking techniques skews the calculation. But not by a lot. Runaway sellers are few and far between. Solid sellers that provide a useful income, though, are certainly do-able.

Quality helps, and this is where mainstream publishers have their place. They filter books for reasons. Sure, there is a healthy dose of commercialism, and excellent pieces of literature with no financial viability get chucked on the slush heap with the dross. That’s more likely today in a tight market. But – by and large – the main houses know what they are doing. They know good books when they see them. They are capable of helping good authors become better authors. The editorial processes work – and are important. I’ve been published for years through the main houses. It’s worked.

I think the industry needs to adapt to the new paradigm, and it will – probably slowly, probably taking hits along the way. But it’s far from dead.

What does this mean for the aspirant author? My advice is this. Start with the traditional route. It’s hard. You’ll get rejections. Hopefully with reasons as to why. Learn – adapt, re-write. Improve. Keep doing it. Get feedback from beta readers. If necessary, send the book to be professionally edited before submitting. Costly, but possibly worth it even as a learning exercise.

What counts is the doing, the improving – and the learning. Quality. E-publishing is always an option; my take is that once the book has a quality, go for it; and keep trying to sell to the main houses – this time with your sales record to help boost your chances with them..

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012


9 thoughts on “How to make your e-book the future

  1. I think you are right, Matthew. I think rumours of the death of trad publishing have been exaggerated. Yes, they will need to adapt (and already are). Yes, this new paradigm give authors choices and, to some extent, powers that they have never had before. It also gives readers powers they haven’t had before, to find niche products that previously just weren’t available. But it isn’t the end of everything we knew. It’s an addition. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

    1. Absolutely. Curiously, my next book – being published by Penguin – is appearing in print in a couple of months. There will, I think, be an e-book edition, and that’s currently listed – but only ‘out of stock’.

      1. ‘Out of Stock’ status for an e-book — that’s a hoot. Sounds like they need a little software upgrade to express an e-book’s current unavailability a little more accurately. Better yet, state the date that it WILL be available. Anyway, good luck with the book launch, and great post here. I tend to agree very much with you — that we’re likely to see more of a middle ground evolve in publishing more than some kind of radical shift that totally displaces traditional publishers — even though it seems some indie published writers who, for varying reasons, have some animosity toward the big traditional publishers, would like nothing more than to see them go under. Certainly an enormous and complex debate going on about all this. I appreciate your perspective both from an experienced author’s and from a historian’s viewpoint.

        1. Thank you. I actually explored some of the issues we face with new tech in a science fiction history I wrote a few years back – again published by Penguin. The e-book response, expectation and likely future is no different from the way we responded to TV in the 1950s, ATM machines in the 1980s and the dotcom experience of the 1990s. Everything gains its level in due course – and inevitably, it isn’t what we expected at the outset.

  2. I’m always sort of teetering on the edge of self-publishing vs. traditional. That said, I have an avid love for ‘real’ books that I can hold, and smell like paper. I think that’s part of the romance of writing and getting something you/I/they wrote traditionally published.

    I’m also fully in agreement about the marketing and attracting sales aspects of your post. When I picture myself self-publishing, I KNOW it will be me doing and wearing ALL the hats that come with it. . . graphic designer, marketing, distribution. . . etc. etc. I still think I’ll be out there slogging my book whether it’s self-published or traditionally published, but I’d also like some support along the way.

    Great post – you’ve given me more to think about once again!

    1. Thank you. And good luck for your efforts. I guess the ultimate answer to ‘self-pub’ or ‘trad’ is ‘both’ – if one tactic doesn’t work, try another. And both together might work better than either alone. The key problem with self-pub remains the distribution and marketing. Very difficult and not, I think, something that can be done exclusivety online.

  3. Great article Matthew. I see all these “Free today” and “only 0.99 cents” and I think it must be costing more than the author is getting. I like the idea of e-publishing and continuing to hit the traditional publishing houses.

    I think I’m going to have to pay an editor – I see that as an investment, but I’m going to wait until my second draft is finished at least. Right at this moment I am waiting on feedback from four people reading the first draft – which reminds me, I must chanse them this weekend!

  4. Glad to read this piece. I agree with the approach you mention for aspiring authors. In fact, with my novel, I’m right there now – “Start with the traditional route, its hard…” Getting it professionally critiqued and edited has helped me a lot.

    Keep posting these great articles!

    1. Thank you. Yes, there’s no substitute for those ‘extra pairs of eyes’ who come to a book cold and can often spot things that the author (who’s gone through 5000 revisions of their beloved work) hasn’t realised. It all helps.

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