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