Electronic books

I'm writing this while e-books is a very small market with only 10,000 Rocket Books sold. For a while I've been listening to, and reading about, e-books and frankly I think most people are seriously underestimating the effect this will have on publishing.

Let me begin by saying we will always have the printed book. It is the traditional medium and the one most people prefer by far. But e-books are more than just a book. They are a living book. In an e-book you can cross-reference, underline, make notes, have a dictionary handy, highlight, and even have video/pictures to supplement the story. You can also increase the size of fonts so that any book can be a large print book.

The Rocket Book came out in 1998. That same year print on demand was demonstrated. A few individuals have seen the connection between e-books and print-on-demand, but so far most have missed the boat.

I believe the first area where e-books will grow by leaps and bounds very quickly is in textbooks. Instead of lugging around fifty pounds of books, a student will soon be able to load all his or her texts into one hand-held device.

I think the true breakthrough in the popularity will come when all the various pieces of hardware: the e-book, laptop, Palm Pilot, cell phone, etc. will be scrunched into one device. Think about the possibilities then. With one machine you will be able to:

-book your flight and room. -read an e-book on the flight

-bring up a map to make sure you know where you are (and probably use a ground positioning receiver built into the device to pinpoint your location)

-look up references for various sites you visit. -type in notes about what you see (so you can tax-deduct the trip)

The real key for writers about e-books is that the business will be, as agent Richard Curtis puts it, author centric. This is true not only of publishing, but many other businesses. Think about travelers. The trend is for them to book their own arrangements over the Internet, making the travel agent a dinosaur. In the same way, we may see publishers and agents become outmoded as the author can reach the reader directly without middlemen.

The biggest issue right now is quality control. Since practically anyone has access to the Internet, dozens of e-

book publishers are springing up in the virtual world. How will potential readers be able to distinguish between quality work and junk? This will take time to sort out.

As this goes to print Random House has just made a rather dramatic step in e-books. First, they've announced that they will give 50% royalties to authors, which is what agents and authors have been asking for. Second, and more importantly for the reader, they are going to lower the price of an e-book below that of a bound book.

Another issue for e-books will be 'branding.' Any person who is willing to pay a couple of hundred dollars to one of the many sites that are springing up on the Internet can be 'published' in both e-book and print on demand. Their book can also be listed at Amazon. However who will determine which of these many, basically self-published, books have any quality?

Earlier in the chapter on reviews I indicated I was not particularly thrilled with the posted reviews at Amazon. However, I've had to reconsider this. Who better than the reader to 'brand' books?

How to write books: Go to the bookstore or library and you will find numerous books in the same vein as this book telling you how to write. Read them. Study them. Take what you can use and don't worry about what you can't. One thing I've noticed in all of them is that most authors think you have to write the same way they do. One said you simply must learn Latin, as it is the only way you can understand and use English. Right—I don't think Dean Koontz knows Latin (OK, maybe he does). Write your way—just do it well. Use how to write books as another tool. I do suggest reading a few though, just to get the common themes. It's like the commercial—if eight out of ten how-to-get-published books say it, then it's probably true.

Self-publishing: They're called "vanity presses" for a reason. Pay if you simply want to feel good about having a bound book. A tiny fraction of self-published books turn a profit. If it was such a good book the odds are a regular publisher would have taken it on. Like literary agencies that charge a fee, vanity presses make their money off of you— not the book.

The real trap in self-publishing is marketing your book. Most bookstore chains won't even give you the time of day. For 99.9% of you reading this article forget about self-publishing.

I recently sat next to a self-published author at a book fair. He was an example of where self-publishing was a good idea. He was a sports columnist for a local paper who took a bunch of his articles and made a book out of them. The first thing he did right was not expend a whole lot of energy in writing a book, since the work was already done. He had five hundred copies printed up and sold them at local book fairs across Kentucky and was doing all right. He also visited local bookstores and had his book placed in there on commission.

If you are sure you can market and sell your book, then self-publishing might be for you—this mostly applies to specific non-fiction markets. I've never heard of a fiction self-published book that did well. Books with titles like How To Satisfy Your Woman Every Time might make it.

I've read several articles recently about how self-publishing is one of the fastest growing businesses and that's true. But that doesn't mean the books that are self-published are making money, it means the people who get paid to publish those books have more clients. Big difference.

Another time self-publishing is good is when you simply want to have a book in hand that you want to give to people, perhaps your family. If you've written your memoirs, it might be a good idea to get it published and bound so you can give it to your children and great-grandchildren.

Multiple book contracts: Publishers are investing in your name when they publish your manuscript. Because of that, they tend to want more than a one shot deal. Initially that sounds great—you get to sign two or three book contracts right from the get-go. The disadvantage, though, is that you lock yourself into that publisher at a price range that may not be your true worth two or three years down the line.

Unfortunately, most writers who are scrambling around down in the pack, don't really have too much choice in this area—you need the advance money in order to continue writing. Just be aware, though, that there are disadvantages to signing several book contracts at the same time.

One disadvantage is something called "joint accounting." That's where the publisher ties both your advances together for two books. Even if your first one earns out its advance, you don't see royalties until you earn out the advances for both, even though the second one hasn't been published yet.

Being self-employed. Publishers seem to be of the opinion that if they give a $5,000 advance then the writer just

"made" $5,000. They don't seem to understand that the writer probably lost around $10,000 on the deal when you take into account the amount of time spent on the manuscript; investment in equipment such as computer and printer; time and money spent on research; agent's fee; taxes; food (yes most of us do have to eat those days we write; rent; etc. etc. etc.).

I got to the point on marketing one manuscript where I simply told my agent I could not let it go for the offer a publisher was making because I couldn't afford to write and live at the price they were offering. Even with the offer being doubled it just about broke me even on the work.

There are many writers whose writing income is above and beyond their "normal" income. Many retired people write simply for the pleasure and when they are published are very happy with the extra money. But for those of you with your literary dagger clenched between your teeth as you try to infiltrate the shores of the publishing world, do not underestimate the cost of staying in business.

How long should a manuscript be? This is an often-asked question and one that is dangerous to answer. The standard answer is: As long as the quality of writing can support.

If you have to wheel your manuscript in to an editor's office in a wheelbarrow, you might get an initial negative impression, but if the quality of the writing and story makes it a magnificent opus, then they'll buy it.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Bridges Of Madison County was perhaps 50,000 words?

Generally, though, I say the normal manuscript length is between 75,000 and 100,000 words. Most of mine seem to be around 100,000 words or 400 manuscript pages. My longest so far was 580 manuscript pages and my shortest just over 300.

The manuscript has to be long enough to tell the story well.

A question I am asked surprisingly often (I say surprisingly because it's something I never really worried about) is how to protect your story idea and the manuscript from being "stolen."

I am not a lawyer and am not too familiar with copyright law, but from my experience I don't think that is something most of us need to worry about. The first question I ask people who ask that question is why would someone want to steal their idea? Although probably not the most polite thing I could ask, it is one that should be considered. If the idea is so good, then it will be bought legitimately.

I have not heard of one single case in the writing business (although I am sure it has happened) where a submission idea was stolen.

Also, if it is your idea, who knows it better than you? Agents and editors accept that fact and would be foolish to try to take your idea and give it to someone else. If you and I started with the exact same original idea, when we finished our manuscript, the results would be two very different books.

The bottom line is, in my opinion, don't worry too much about your idea or manuscript getting stolen. If you are really that concerned, seal it in an envelope and mail it to yourself and let it remain sealed. The postmark will help prove dating.

Pen Names or who the hell are you anyway?

This is a question I am asked constantly. Why do I write under so many names? Currently, I am published under four names besides my own and have a manuscript on the market under a fifth name. The reasons are:

1. Normally, once you are under contract with a publisher, they "own" the next work under that name. They have right of refusal on any new work using that name. So to free yourself, you have to use a different name.

2. You might be writing in a different genre. Readers and publishers are very picky. If you've been writing horror under your name for five years and suddenly write a romance, it would behoove you to use a different name to try to get it published. Very few authors have ever managed to switch genres under the same name.

I heard Dan Simmons at a signing the other day say he had just gotten a very unique contract—two books, any subject. That's very rare in the business. But Simmons has written horror and science fiction so well, that the publisher felt whatever he wrote would work.

3. I mentioned earlier in the chapter under numbers that this is an up or out business. Using a new name gives you a new opportunity to succeed.

Many authors have written under various pen names. I think Dean Koontz had eight.

Are there guidelines for picking pen names? Not really. It's recommended you go early in the alphabet, since books are usually shelved according to authors' last names. I've started grouping my pen names in the D's—Doherty, Donegan, Dalton. Makes it easier to look for the books in a store.

The Chains versus The Independents. This is a very hot topic currently. Personally, to me a bookstore is a bookstore.

I recently received e-mail from a fellow author urging me to write to the FCC about supporting the independent bookstores against one of the major chains. I had to look at this carefully. My reply to this author was that in my local town, there were four bookstores—two indies, two chain stores. The two chain stores carried his book. The two indies didn't. I suggested that he re-evaluate where he is putting his loyalty.

As part of my marketing campaign I sent out over 3,500 personal letters to independent bookstores with about 45 signed bookplates in each. This was a considerable investment of time and money. I received zero replies. The stores I checked had not used the bookplates. My motto as an author to both the independents and the chains is let's support the independent author.

It goes back to what I mentioned earlier about perspective. Different stores have different focuses. I've been treated quite well by both independent storeowners and chain store managers. The bottom line for both is that they want to sell books. So do I.

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