Monday, June 17, 2013

On e-publishing, indy presses, and the sliver of my brain that hasn't caught up yet

Early last week, I was tickled pink when RT Book Reviews (the same magazine that nominated Making Waves as a contender for 2011 Contemporary Romance of the Year) wrote about my upcoming novel with Entangled Publishing as one of their "most-anticipated upcoming releases across the genres."

You can check out that article and see what other books they're buzzing about here.

Or here's the little blurb about my book:


My agent and editor and I tweeted the link in all our giddy excitement, and I posted it to my Facebook page. We got lots of lovely comments and enthusiasm, including a comment from an astute reader who noticed the Download and Go notation above my category. "Will it be available in print, or just e-book?" she inquired.

I'll confess, I felt a tiny flicker of embarrassment when I replied that for the time being, my new three-book series with Entangled will be e-book only. Since I don't embarrass easily, it was enough to make me sit back and ask myself, "what the hell?"

It won't surprise you to know I ask that a lot.


What I realized is that a small sliver of my brain still operates with the assumptions I had about publishing four or five years ago. What that brain-sliver doesn't realize is how wildly the industry has changed in that time, and how many of my previous assumptions have either been rendered incorrect, or were never correct to start with. Like what? you ask.

Allow me to share.

MISGUIDED THOUGHT #1: Books published only in e-book format or by independent publishers = not good enough to be traditionally published
The first time I saw my book at WalMart.
It's a snobby thought to have, and I'll own up to having it more than once five or six years ago. It was always my goal to have printed books on the shelves at major bookstores and retailers across the country, and I'm glad I got to experience the thrill of walking into my local WalMart and squealing like a $10 hooker upon seeing my book on the shelves for the first time.

But things have changed, both in my own mind, and in the publishing industry. Plenty of awesome books are available in e-book only or published through smaller, independent presses. In the last two years, I've watched a number of mid-list authors with extremely strong writing careers make the switch from traditional publishing to these formats. It's essentially the reverse of what used to happen, where an author might opt for a smaller e-book only deal in hopes of eventually working her way toward a print deal. Why are they doing it? Well, that leads me to my next misguided thought.

MISGUIDED THOUGHT #2: Authors can't make any real money with e-publishers or independent presses
Once upon a time, romance authors in particular saw most of their sales from impulse buyers at WalMart or big-box bookstores. Oh, how times have changed. According to stats from RWA, Amazon.com and other e-commerce or e-book/audiobookretailers accounted for 54% of romance novel sales in 2012. By contrast, WalMart sold 13%, while Barnes & Noble got 11%. That's a pretty big shift from the days the complete opposite was true. According to RWA, "E-book sales of romance books have proportionally doubled in one year, from 22 percent in Q1 2011 to 44 percent in Q1 2012." You can bet that number will continue to climb as more and more people purchase e-readers. Speaking for myself, I can say without question I purchase more books on my Kindle (thanks to my heavy trigger-finger and the "buy with one click" option) than I ever used to buy in paperback. I still make impulse purchases, but I do it in my jammies with a glass of wine in hand.

What does all this mean for authors? Well, book sales = money. Higher book sales = more money. Authors are notoriously tight-lipped about the financial side of what they do, but many of us chatter privately to keep tabs on the industry. I can think of at least half-a-dozen author pals who've segued into indy publishing or e-book only deals in the last two years, and every single one of them is doing better financially than she was before. That's hard to ignore, especially for struggling mid-listers. As my agent has steered me toward book deals with Coliloquy and Entangled in the last year, this is the carrot she's dangled. I love carrots, and not just for their phallic shape.

MISGUIDED THOUGHT #3: Only the younger demographic owns e-readers I do a lot of chats with book clubs, and I was smacked squarely in the face by the ignorance of my own assumption in one of the very first Skype sessions with a group in the Midwest. The book club consisted of about a dozen women, all of whom were over 50. We'd been visiting maybe 30 minutes when I mentioned Getting Dumped, my interactive fiction title that allows for a sort of choose-your-own-adventure quality, thanks to e-book technology. The women were so excited about it, that I hated to burst their bubble by telling them it's only available in e-book format. "That's perfect!" they declared. "We can buy it right now." And every single one of them – including the woman who'd announced her age as 84 – whipped out her e-reader. Color me dumbfounded. I shouldn't have been, really. While younger readers may have an affinity for technology, older readers have the disposable income to afford it. Those with aging eyes like bumping up the type size with ease, and those who travel a lot love the convenience of packing hundreds of books in a device that fits easily in a purse and weighs only a few ounces. Are there still people who don't have e-readers? Absolutely, either because they can't afford the purchase or because they cling to the look and feel of a paperback book. I feel bad about that, and I can relate to wanting to stroke the pages and gaze lovingly at the cover of a paperback. But the more the market swings toward e-readers, the more I have to accept that I can reach the biggest audience that way.

So there you have it – three misguided thoughts I've been working to guide differently in recent years. How about you? Have your perceptions of publishing or e-readers changed in recent years? If so, how? Please share!

11 comments :

Stephsco said...

My mom was close to tears when I bought her a Nook three years ago--not just at the thought of it, but because the Nook was so light and easy to use, it actually lessened some of the hand strain from her arthritis. You don't think of that much, that holding open a paperback might strain hands, and she loves reading so much it's not light she'd give it up. Plus you can adjust the font, have it backlit (on most newer models) which is really great for aging eyes. I agree that more of the "older set" are using ereaders than we realize. Lots of people in my parent's generation went nuts over the ipad because they found it easier to use than a desktop or laptop computer.

Great thoughts on the book stuff! My RWA chapter has also showed me that a mix of publishing in print and digital, traditional and self-pub, are all roads that can lead to a lasting career. It's definitely not just big 6 traditional anymore.

Deborah said...

I'm afraid I'm guilty of sharing your since-adjusted prejudices. It's personal for me--I love the heft and smell of a book, and if I forget it on the bus, or drop it in the bath, I'm out $10.00, not a couple hundred for an e-reader, not to mention the hundreds of dollars of downloaded material!

But hey, that's me. :)

Audrey said...

Uh-oh, I know I asked if it was going to be out in print too - hope it wasn't me that made you feel embarrassed! So many of my favorite authors have books that are only out in e-book now - so I know it isn't books that aren't good enough for print, that's for sure. That's the part that is bad about not having an e-reader - I miss out on some really good books. I just love physically holding a real book, & lending them out, etc. And if I'm sitting there in a dr's waiting room, laughing out loud at my book (now THAT'S embarrassing!), no one can see the cover on an e-reader, & know what I"m reading. That was your book, by the way :) I will confess to being envious when my Dad looks up a book on his e-reader, & has it immediately! :) I used to work - til a few months ago - merchandising the books at a Meijer store, & there are a lot of older people with e-readers. All ages :) And my Mom knows someone who makes enough money off of her e-books that she quit her job. So you should never feel embarrassed if someone like me asks you if your book will be available in print - I"m only asking because I don't have an e-reader, & LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your books, & don't want to miss any of them!

Lori Robinett said...

I was a bit hesitant about e-readers, because I love the feel and smell of a print book. But I dove in and bought a Nook. My teenaged daughter borrowed it so much, I bought a Nook tablet also, so we could both read. I LOVE being able to carry so many books with me, and love the instant buying power of e-readers. I used to be a library reader, because I ran out of shelf space at home. Now I BUY a lot of books. Several a month.

Maggie Jaimeson said...

You've certainly hit the top 3 prejudices. It is amazing to realize how quickly things have changed. I began writing novels in earnest ten years ago--the days when traditional books in mass market paperback were my goal, followed by a rise to hardback.

Five years ago, well into my 50's I purchased my first ereader, a Nook. I did it for two reasons: 1) As my DH and I downsized our living arrangements, I was forced to give away books and bookshelves. It was very painful to say goodbye; and 2) I traveled a lot, sometimes for weeks at a time and could not afford to take 10+ books in my luggage. It was then I realized that ebooks would become the majority and paper books the minority.

Congrats on your success. Entangled is a good company. I hope you do amazingly well with them.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

My first book is coming out with Entangled later this year (yay!), and I have only had to explain to two or three people that they aren't likely to get an actual signed paper copy unless I print one out personally at home...
My only real sad feeling about that is that I won't get to take Deadly Chemistry on a book tour like I took Making Waves on way back when...

TAWNA FENSKE said...

LOL, Audrey...you're sweet. I got the question from a number of readers, so rest assured, it wasn't just you. And I actually welcome the momentary twinge of embarrassment because it forced me to think about some of my preconceived assumptions/prejudices and confront them, asking myself how has the industry changed, and how has my own thought process changed? Introspection is almost always a good thing, so thanks for that!

Tawna

Michelle Wolfson said...

Omg, your agent sounds BRILLIANT!!!

Audrey said...

Well that's a relief, because I was feeling bad. I never mean to say anything bad about e-books, nor to make anyone feel bad - & certainly not one of my favorite authors!!!! I just know that sometimes an e-book comes out in print eventually, & I don't want to miss any of your books. I will think of a way.... in any case, congratulations!!!!

SM Johnston said...

I've actually had a family member tell me my book isn't published until it's in a physical book format. Can't help ignorance.

cleemckenziebooks said...

Such a great post. You nailed the key "misguided thoughts" very well.