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3.11.2011

E-Books Are So 3008, Printed Books Are So 2000-Late

Did you know this week was Read an E-Book Week? Like you, I missed out on it too. From a look at the official RAEW website (because we all love acronyms), the only thing that has been updated is the date: March 6- 12, 2011. Yet the press releases are from 2009; the could have been from last year, or the year before.


In an article in the Huffington Post, Mark Coker says a revolution is in store for publishing (he tries to line it up with the recent Middle East uprisings, but you know...FAIL): "The catalysts for the Egyptian revolution are remarkably similar to what's driving the author uprising against Big Publishing. By 'Big Publishing,' I'm referring to the old system in which the publisher serves as the author's judge, jury, gatekeeper and executioner." That uprising against Big Publishing is economic opportunity. But whereas the economic opportunity in the middle is about getting rid of dictators, Coker points to e-publishing. And, you do know epublishing is all the rage, right?

According to Coker, in two or three years from now, ebooks will account for more than 50% of the market. The smart retailers, he says, are those who are stepping up to the revolution. And the answer to Coker is clear: of course authors will want to self-publish ebooks because it gives them what publishing houses can't:

E-selfpublishing, he implies, means success.

Self-published authors, a.k.a "indie authors," now have the power to produce, publish, price and promote books that are as good or better than those put out by Big Publishing. Indie ebook authors earn royalties of 60-70% of the list price. Traditionally published authors earn 5-17%.

Indie author sensation Amanda Hocking, in her recent interview with USA Today, was quoted as saying, "I can't really say that I would have been more successful if I'd gone with a traditional publisher."

No doubt, much of Hocking's success is because she's an indie author. She writes great books her readers love. She prices her series-starters at only $.99 and the rest at $2.99. Great books plus low prices plus enthusiastic fans plus an author directly engaged with her fans equals viral readership. Few big publishers are prepared to play by these new rules while paying authors 60-70% of list price.

Every week we hear of self-published authors - previously rejected by Big Publishing - finding success with self-published ebooks. Brian Pratt, profiled...at HuffPost in December, is one such author. Ruth Ann Nordin is another. Nordin's An Inconvenient Marriage is the #3 best-selling romance title today in the Apple iBookstore's romance category, and #57 among all paid titles at Apple. At Kobo, she's #9 today.

Needless to say, Coker sounds like an infomercial. Coker, in fact, is the founder of the self-publishing e-book company Smashwords (no secret). Yet that aside, does Coker have a grain of truth? In a world where publishers are apparently not giving writers shit, is self-publishing ebooks a viable solution? When epublishing companies are everywhere, as well as print on demand services and the like, is this a good option?

In another article in Huffington, professor emeritus (CUNY) Bernard Starr says self-publishing is here to stay. (But is it even new?) Like Coker, he cites plenty of examples: Tanya Wright, Stokes McMillan, Walter and Marilyn Rabetz ...names you haven't heard before, and you probably won't, but the point Starr makes is that self-publishing is viable, an option that cannot be seen as the "pesky second-class stepchild [of traditional publishing] that they believe will always remain in that status."

Self-publishing is the future. It is the hovering space car we're all looking for. But, to quote a tweet from Amber Sparks..."Motherfuckers where's my hover board?" Self-publishing may be getting better, but is it the better option?

What is missing the argument is one very simple fact: writing is gosh darn hard. Honestly. There's the inspiration, the writing, the editing, the workshopping, the crying after the workshop (sometimes during the workshop), the month of depression and sudden career change ("Fuck being a writer, I want to be a tree!"). It doesn't necessarily go in this order either. And then there's the day job because no writer is actually a writer, they're booksellers, food runners, organic produce specialists, temporary administrative assistants.  Add to this the pressurre of publishing and after publishing, selling, which comes with the territory in either route.

What the discussion is lacking are voices from the people in question about what they do, and the fact that either route on a very base level doesn't matter because you're still gonna have to sit in a room by yourself for a very long time to finish up that book.

Also, the discussion has to admit that sometimes it's just luck.

As self-publishing starlet Amanda Hocking writes on her blog in response to all the media attention:

As much as my name has been thrown about, I haven't seen J. L. Bryan's name mentioned. He's the author of a fantastic young adult paranormal romance called Jenny Pox. Like my books, his is priced at $.99 EDIT: It's $2.99 now. But it was $.99 earlier. Like me, he has several other titles out. Also, like me, he has paperback versions of his book available and he reaches out to book bloggers. In fact, he just did an intensive blog tour for the release of his latest book The Haunted E-book. I even included an excerpt of Jenny Pox at the end of my book Ascend, because I like his writing so much, and I want other people to read it.

With all of that said, Bryan sells less books than I do. I don't know how many exactly, because I haven't asked, but I can tell from his rankings that it's not as many.

What's my point in all of this? By all accounts, he has done the same things I did, even writing in the same genre and pricing the books low. And he's even a better writer than I am. So why am I selling more books than he is?  I don't know.

That's the truth of it. Nobody knows what makes one book a bestseller. Publishers and agents like to pretend they do, but if they did, they would only publish best sellers, and they don't.

I guess what I'm saying is that just because I sell a million books self-publishing, it doesn't mean everybody will. In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books. I don't mean that to be mean, and just because a book doesn't sell well doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's just the nature of the business.

Self-publishing and traditional publishing really aren't that different. One is easier to get into but harder to maintain. But neither come with guarantees. Some books will sell, some won't.

The publishing industry has to face this: they don't actually know what sells. Writers have to remember: writing is not easy.


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