Thursday, March 31, 2011

Get the Ludd Out

Earlier this week, I was contacted by an author with an upcoming book that has really been on my radar. Like I thought it was out and had already tried to buy it, on my radar. We'd never had any contact, but he got ahold of me and asked if I'd like to have a PDF of a couple of his electronic books. As much as I'm pretty confident I would really dig the books, I declined the offer of the PDFs for the simple reason that I'm finding I just don't read them. I've got a virtual stack of em on my laptop and even when I know I'm going to love, love, love the book, it's a pain in the ass to get at it and ingest it from the screen. 

But I realize I'm an old fart. And I understand the irony that I, y'know, blog and shit, and that I've had fiction published online and that I'd be absolutely nowhere without people like Todd Robinson or Anthony Neil Smith or David Cranmer and Elaine Ash for reading, publishing and promoting my no-name ass. I also understand that it could very well be the only way some of my books ever get published. So, it's a loaded issue for me. I love the idea of electronic publishing, but I do not yet love to read (books anyway) in that format. At Ransom Notes, I'm talking about it. About how I'm not such hot shit with my book-reading prowess anymore. About how I'm getting left behind because there's a lot of cool shit getting released only in electronic format. I asked Allan Guthrie (because of his new blog Criminal-E) and Dave Zeltserman (because of the approach he's taking to e-books with Top Suspense Group) for a few words on the subject and their experience with electro-books and used some snippets from what they said in the Ransom Notes piece, but I thought I'd just put the rest of it out there for you here. Pay special attention to what Guthrie says regarding the cons of e-publishing, (for the writer). A couple of things I hadn't thought about.

Allan Guthrie:

About ten years ago I launched my website, Noir Originals. It focused on crime fiction, since that was my particular passion, and included reviews, articles, interviews, author showcases, and so on. The new blog is a natural progression from that. Just another way of connecting authors and readers, I hope. As the name suggests, Criminal-E features crime fiction in ebook format. Why ebooks? Because since publishers have become increasingly risk averse, a lot of excellent new (and indeed previously out of print) crime fiction is available in that format, sometimes exclusively.
My personal experience has been eye-opening. My print sales taught me to have very modest expectations and to begin with those expectations appeared to be right on the money. But I was lucky enough to get some traction, sales picked up in December, shot up rapidly in January and by February BYE BYE BABY was in the top 10 in the UK Kindle store, where it remained for most of the month. US sales have been picking up too, month after month, but much more ... um ... modestly.

It's hard to disentangle the advantages and disadvantages of indie publishing over traditional publishing because often they're just different ways of looking at the same thing. For instance, while it's great being in control of the whole operation, it would also be nice to have some help now and then. Self-publishing is a lot of fun, but it's very time-consuming.

My own situation is a little unusual in that the two novellas I've made available digitally were both commissioned for print. So I had very useful editorial input taken care of, otherwise that would have been a huge upfront cost. Generally the lack of an advance is one of the downsides of going it alone, but again that wasn't the case for me. Also, it's generally harder to sell subsidiary rights for a digital-only publication, but audio rights to both my novellas have sold because of the acumen of the publishers behind the print deal. I can't cite minimal bookstore presence either. So, specific to my own situation, the cons would be the lack of marketing input for the digital versions and the whole conversion process, both of which involved a steep learning curve. The pros that spring immediately to mind are the speed of publication, higher royalty rates, control over the price, content, cover design and product information, the monthly payments (from Amazon; Smashwords is quarterly), and real-time access to my sales figures with Amazon. The latter cannot be underestimated.

I'm not sure whether I'm getting more exposure, but I'm certainly getting far more books into the hands of readers, which is what we all hope greater exposure will lead to. My ratio of ebook sales to print sales over the last three months is fairly staggering: 450 to 1. And that's with only two ebooks available and seven books in print.

Dave Zeltserman:

The idea for the Top Suspense Group came out of discussions I had last year with Ed Gorman and Harry Shannon about how midlist writers were going to survive in this upcoming e-book centric world, especially with the Big Six shutting themselves off more and more to us midlist. The idea we came up with is conceptually simple--band together with top writers in our field and brand ourselves over time as a trusted place for readers to find high-quality genre fiction; in our case mystery, crime, horror and thriller fiction. Since then we've grown to 12 writers, built a pretty cool website, and have taken on projects like our Top Suspense Anthology, and our branding seems to be taking hold. The results aren't going to be there immediately, but I feel pretty good about this working over time. One thing I know is six months from now the e-book landscape is going to look very different than it does now, but I have to think selling quality will eventually win out no matter how this landscape changes.


Cullen Gallagher said...

Looking forward to your Ransom Notes piece tomorrow.

If it makes you feel better, I'm not that into reading eBooks either, but I am supportive of the idea, as well. I have bought a number of books for Kindle, which I can read on my laptop. Not the most enjoyable way. I've done short stories and novellas. Never tried a whole novel that way.

Chris said...

I find reading novel-length PDFs on the computer impossible. However, I do have a Nook (gift from my mom) and my phone has a Kindle ap. The Nook, which I still only read one book for every 10 or so "real" books because of my TBR backlog, is a perfect fine medium for me to read on, I've learned.

As for the phone, I doubted I could ever read anything on it. I started out reading short story collection, because small stories at a time are about all the time I was giving it. Since then, though, I've read one full length book and am on my second (though this one, Charlie Stella's Jimmy Bench-Press, seems like it might be just a novella, not sure). It certainly isn't optimal, but it's doable.

Long story short, I still prefer print books, but I can read eBooks with no trouble at all.

Paul D. Brazill said...

I'm pretty much in the same boat as you. I only got a lap top a few months ago, so I've been reading PDF's on there. Like Cullen, I prefer novellas and short stories. I read PDF's and books on Kindle for PC much slower the paper books. I am going to get a Kindle or some sort of ereader in the summer, when I have the money, and we'll see how that goes.