Monday, January 11, 2010


My January 3 post about e-books selling more than print brought in a flurry of questions from authors and aspiring authors. It also caused some dismay and disbelief among a few readers, but mostly acknowledgment from the writing community. 
   Here are my responses and I urge you to understand they are just one view (mine) in the avalanche of speculation Amazon's report created.

What are the opportunities for writers, especially those who are positioning themselves to self-publish? 

I have been digitally publishing my books since 2000, both commercially and myself. All my self-pubbed books are available in electronic versions (.pdf) on my website.
To get my books for writers accepted by Sony and Amazon for their e-readers, I was forced to find a commercial American e-publisher. I didn't find this difficult, simply annoying. If Amazon would accept self-published e-books by authors with residence in Canada, I would have done it myself using my imprint, Beacon Publishing.
   Is it worth it the hassle? Most definitely for me. My e-book sales were slow until I started tweeting about my e-books, and then my sales increased by 200% almost in the first six weeks and haven't looked back.
   My advice to authors: hedge your bets - self-publish your books in print and electronically in a variety of formats.

Are commercial (trade) publishers producing e-versions for sale?

Yes, more and more. Some bring out e-versions at the same time as the print book is released. Others wait until a hard-cover bestseller comes out in paper-back. But still others don't e-publish at all or restrict the availability of the e-version to the USA, probably due to the rights awarded in the contract.

   I have been in the business long enough to remember trade publishing contracts without e-rights. Over the past five years, my trade contracts have changed everytime. Ten years ago, I could also negotiate to keep the e-rights for myself, but not any longer. Publishers want them and want them all, even unknown e-rights. Trying to change a small clause in the e-right section is a hard-fought proposition these days - the best I could do in 2009 was to put a time limit on how long my publisher had to exploit the e-rights. I doubt I would even achieve that nine months later after the explosion of sales of e-books and Kindles that Amazon reported. (See The Writers' Union of Canada for more on contracts and e-rights.)
   Once authors have a trade contract and their publishers have the e-rights, authors must nag them to get the book converted and sold to Sony and Amazon for their e-readers. Print sales still seem uppermost in publishers' minds and many  are slow to accept the value of e-sales.

How will e-publishing affect earnings through royalties (if books sell more cheaply through Kindle, do writers' royalties - meager as they often are - also take a hit? 

No question! Given that the retail price of e-books is much lower than print so far, author's royalties drop accordingly. On an e-book that costs a reader US$6.99, the author receives $1.00, but this is a higher percentage than the 10% you earn on print copies. Authors need higher sales volume for e-books to make the same return as print.
   Some other thoughts here concerning the price point. The big box bookstores and Costco are demanding publishers sell them print books at very low retail prices - almost as low as e-versions. E-books have been creeping up a bit lately. Where is this trend going to end up? Honestly, I don't know, but I have a sinking feeling it will soon reduce earnings from royalties. This is one of the reasons I choose to self-publish all but my books on Canadian history - I make more money!

Will e-books make it easier or more difficult for writers to promote their own work? 

   Well, you can't book signings in the same way as you do for print versions! Readings, perhaps? But if you've read the Winter 2009 issue of The Beacon, you'll know what my publisher and I think of the value of those events.
   My take on promotion is to meet the readers of e-books where they congregate - online. Hence, my success with Twitter promotion. You must have an author blog at the very least.Offer yourself as a guest blogger and for blog interviews too.Get active on Facebookin networks who are interested in your area of work, be they writers or readers.
   Note that the 50-64 age group is buying e-readers and smart phones 50% more numbers than the Gen Ys and Millenials. They can afford them and travel. Instead of carrying a suitcase one third full of books on trips, I load up my e-reader with books in text and my iPod with audio books for when my eyes get tired on long flights. Result - I can take more with me or use a smaller case. And, please note, I fit the demographic - I shall be 65 in seven months.
   Sales of e-novels now outstrip e-nonfiction, turning the old stats on their heads. Reasons? Perhaps it's price, illustrations don't work that well on e-readers, green-consciousness, and many buyers preferring to have nonfiction on their bookshelves for reference.

Now what are others saying about this topic? To make a wise judgment for your situation, get several opinions from all the stakeholders and weigh them carefully to see if e-publishing is a good choice for the books you write.