The Truth About E-books

I wouldn’t say I’ve had a bad experience in the brave new world of e-publishing. “Bad” would be too strong a word. My editor was easy to work with, I was pleased with the cover art, and it’s always better to have a book out than to not have a book out. On the other hand, would I recommend e-publishing to my fellow authors?

No. I recommend it wholeheartedly if you are a hobbyist, because the overall experience was much more pleasant than print publishing. But if you’re a professional? No.

And I hate to say that, especially since there exists a certain sensitivity (dare I say touchiness?) on the part of e-book authors who feel that their work is too often dismissed as second-class. Their work may well be first-class. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t read it.

And this, gentle reader, is what I am writing this blog entry to confess. I am an e-book author. And even I do not read e-books.

It’s not that I don’t have an e-reader, because I do. I have a Kindle. But so far the only books I have downloaded to it (with the exception of my own) are books that first appeared in print. E-versions, therefore, of “real” books.

“Real” books! Ouch.

I’m afraid my fellow e-authors are going to have to grit their teeth and live with the stigma. Not forever, one hopes, but certainly for now.  Because the truth is, as of 2010, e-books are still for amateurs.

There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. Amateur, remember, comes from the Latin root “amat-,” which means that an amateur pursues a passion. Does something for the pure love of it. Would do it whether s/he were paid or not. It’s not a judgment on whether or not the person does it well. Often — I would even say usually — an amateur does it well. When I say “e-books are for amateurs,” trust me, I’m only referring to that “for the love of it” thing — because an amateur does not get paid.

Which is why e-books are for amateurs.

E-publishers pay no advance against royalties. This is supposedly “made up for” by the generous royalty percentage you will earn when the book comes out. And the books are published at least twice as quickly as they are in the print world. Plus, you get your royalty checks promptly — even monthly, in the case of my publisher. No years-long wait for your book to arrive in stores, sell or not sell, etc. The book is out, spit-spot, sold, done, here’s your check. No warehousing, no shipping, nothing whatsoever to wait for.

Except for the fact that your book never shows up in a store.

Oh. That.

Well, as it turns out, “that” carves a pretty big hole in the e-publisher’s business model. You lose the browsers. Most people, when they wander into a bookstore, have only a vague idea of what they are looking for. They go to an interesting section and browse until they see something that grabs them. Even if they go with an actual title in mind, they tend to browse the books around that title. People who go to bookstores love books. They love the way they look, and feel, and smell. A sense of pleasurable anticipation fills them as they step into the shop. They will leave with a book — or two, or more — that promise hours of enjoyment. And if yours is an e-book, it isn’t there.

Not only is it not in the stores, it’s not being reviewed by the usual suspects, or talked about, or passed from friend to friend, or advertised. None of the normal channels to generate “buzz” are open to it. I couldn’t even get the library that had awarded Wicked Cool first place in its statewide competition for YA novels to carry Wicked Cool.

So who buys an e-book? People who know you, or are related to you, or who are die-hard fans who buy anything you write. And even some of them won’t buy it. Even people who appeared on the Acknowledgments page of  Wicked Cool didn’t buy it. Some of my own sisters didn’t buy it. People who have read my books for years didn’t buy it.

Because — let’s not kid ourselves — it wasn’t a real book.

There are exceptions, I am told (indignantly). There are authors of e-books — those who write erotic romance, for example — who claim to make a living at it. All I’m saying is, don’t count on becoming one of these possibly-mythical beings. Because the cruel truth is, the best way for an e-book author to make a living at writing e-books is … have your e-book series picked up by a real publisher. (Oh, dear! Did I say “real” again?)

God bless Romance Writers of America. They have drawn a line in the sand and stubbornly stand behind it. They let their e-book authors storm and rail and claim discrimination because their publishers are not admitted to the elite ranks of RWA recognition — and still they stand firm. (Or at least they did the last time I checked.) You cannot hold yourself out as a trade organization interested in promoting the careers of authors unless you insist that authors get paid. RWA says, in essence: If you can’t even pay a utility bill with your royalty check, I’m sorry, nothing against you, no judgment on whether your work is good or bad — but your publisher is not on our list. Not yet. We cordially and sincerely hope it may get there, and the sooner the better, but it isn’t there yet. Please let us know when you receive a royalty check that enables you to quit your day job.

The day is not far off, I’m sure, when e-books pay real money and authors submit their work to e-publishers in actual preference to working with a print publisher. I am personally acquainted with at least one author who grew so sick of the hassles inherent in print publishing (and it is, truly, a maddening industry) that she has written nothing but e-books for several years. But even she, writing prolifically and working with several e-publishers at once, has struggled to keep the wolf from the door. She is now submitting to print publishers again.

And why do I bring all this up now? (I hear you ask.)

Because Wicked Cool will no longer be sold by Cerridwen Press after the first of the year. Cerridwen Press is in the process of re-naming itself and re-positioning itself in the marketplace. As part of this process, it has decided that its new incarnation will only offer romance titles. Wicked Cool is not a romance. So the rights to it revert to me on December 31st.

And I’m smiling as I type that. Not with unalloyed joy, mind you — I had hoped that my relationship with this publisher would be terrific and that we’d both make money off Wicked Cool. But since we didn’t, I will now go out on a limb and GUARANTEE you, faithful readers, that a print version of Wicked Cool will one day be obtainable. Even if only seven people buy the darn thing. That’s right — my sisters, and the people on the Acknowledgments page.

So stay tuned.

16 thoughts on “The Truth About E-books

  1. Okay…here is where I take a deep breath and admit that…Ihaven’treadWickedCoolyet. I’m sorry! I feel really bad about it, though I feel less bad knowing that some of your own sisters have not read it either. I happily bought a copy because I love your writing and wanted to support you, and I do think about reading it at least once a week, but I don’t own an e-reader. I would have to read it on my laptop. I just am not in the habit of reading book-length things on my laptop, and I am mildly annoyed by the Adobe scrolling when I read even short documents.

    In defense of myself, I’ve not been reading much at all these days. I don’t seem to have the attention span for reading a whole book AND gestating a human being at the same time. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of sudokus, and those only five or ten minutes at once.

    So I would love it if Wicked Cool were printed in actual book form. I can pretty much guarantee I will read it that way!

    • Bethany, I am touched that you bought Wicked Cool as a gesture of support. Thank you!! I would say that you have definitely done your part and should feel no obligation to actually read the thing.

      And even I must admit that gestating a human being is probably a more important use of your mental energy.

      One of my sisters did buy it and slog through it on her computer, but the other two? Not so much. LOL

  2. Well, thanks for not holding it against me.🙂 I really do want to read it, though! And I will someday. There is actually a pile of books gathering on my nightstand which I’ve purchased in the past couple of months but not read yet. I figure when I’m spending hours a day nursing a newborn I’ll need something to do when I get tired of watching TV!

  3. I’m happy to hear that WICKED COOL will be in book form, partly because the cover is so very beautiful and we aren’t able to enjoy that on the Kindle.

    I, too, read it mostly on the computer, because when I d/l’d it from Cerridwen, it was in PDF form and I couldn’t adjust the font–too tiny.

    One major reason for the good news is that this is a YA book and would be bought for teens, most of whom probably don’t have e-readers and need it in book form. It would be wonderful if it were available for them–also to be available in libraries for that reason and for them to loan to each other.

    I buy many books on Kindle and have a virtual stack of “to reads” as well as read several books at any given time. Just wish I had more eyes, brains, and lifetimes with which to consume all of the information.

    Happy for the prospects of WICKED COOL, Diane!🙂

    • You read it on the computer?! See, this is what’s so terrible. People were kind enough to take a chance on that book and buy it and actually READ it … not to mention say kind things about it … and now I feel like I owe you an apology on top of my thanks.

      The “guarantee” that I mentioned is that if all else fails, I am going to partner with amazon.com to offer a print version there. It still wouldn’t be in stores, but at least there would be an opportunity for readers who prefer book form to buy it in book form.

  4. Sorry you had a bad experience though I have to say I am not surprised. As someone whose working life has been spent with computer technology in all its forms, I remain hugely sceptical of the current eBook craze. Personally I wouldn’t even consider reading a book for pleasure on a screen of any sort. I would read a technical book or an article. But the prospect of sitting down at the end of a long day and settling down with a Kindle definitely does not appeal to me.

    Moreover, it seems to me that any “digital” text is instantly devalued. If you can download it, people expect it for free. As you know, I released a (technical) eBook myself. I deliberately made this free (even though it has 450 hard-written pages) and as such it has worked very well as a promotional item to drive people into my company’s web site. It’s been downloaded tens of thousands of times yet i am quite sure that if there had been even a very small charge, very few people would have downloaded it.

    Like you, I am now going the conventional publishing route. What can I say – I hope we both have a best seller!🙂

    • I think most fiction readers understand that if their favorite content were free it would very soon disappear. I assume when I’m downloading a technical document that the company offering it paid the writer. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that! But you’re right; people do expect valuable content to be offered for free via the internet.

      I was definitely embarrassed by what Cerridwen expected people to pay for WICKED COOL. And those who bought it on Amazon paid even more, since (apparently) the publisher didn’t reduce its cut, and Amazon added their own premium on top of it. Most dismaying. I hope people realize that an author has no control over that. I’m very fond of all my books, naturally, but I wouldn’t have paid $9.52 for WICKED COOL. 😦 I think more copies would have sold had it been priced more reasonably.

  5. Since I’ve had the same sort of experience several times over, I won’t argue that you’re all wet, Farr.

    But I do think you’re kind of damp when you talk about The Future. I think it’s already here for some publishers, like Samhain. They are growing fast and selling more books (and are accepting fewer. Sigh)

    I have friends who make an actual living–yes, real bucks!–from their e-books. I have a good friend who got to quit her day job last month thanks to ebook proceeds.

    There is the question of quality: I’ve found that the editing and line-editing at a couple of places is as strenuous as the process I experienced at Kensington–more so at at least one epub.

    I predict that at least some publishers will very soon rival print publishers when it comes to payment for authors, if they aren’t there already. (Definitely past ’em, if you include Dorchester in that print mix, which isn’t fair, so never mind)

    But hey, I’ll buy your books no matter what format you choose.

    • I would be happy to discover I was damp. Thanks for injecting a note of hope! I know that erotic titles do well in e-format, but if “regular old romance” is selling well, that’s news to me. It’s definitely The Publisher Formerly Known As Cerridwen’s hope to make that happen – if it hasn’t already. But you are making me hope that it’s happening already. If so, that’s excellent news.

  6. Hey, I bought it! But I must agree with a number of your comments. My relatives and friends don’t buy my books either–well, some do, but most expect freebies, whether in print of ebook form.

    I do want to point out that I did get an advance on one ebook, a story called ‘Highland Vampire,’ which was published by Harlequin Spice Briefs under my erotica persona, Suz deMello. But as far as I know HQ with its financial might is the only epub paying advances.

    I do think that if a writer puts out a substantial amount of erotica online from one of the big publishers like Ellora’s Cave, s/he will make good money.

    As for print publishing, why not look at the Author’s Guild program? Better yet, let’s look at it together🙂

    Hugs,
    Sue/suz

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