Random Tidbits

E-Books now outselling print books on Amazon UK.

My friend Cedric issued a challenge to sum up my three books in haiku, so here it is:

Teen girl, easy life.
Shit hits the fan. People die.
Growing up’s painful.

Heart’s desire reached.
But there’s a complication.
Life is hard choices.

The foe is revealed.
When all you have left is death,
How you die matters.

Yeah, I know I’m behind on “Vampire Lawyers” again. I have a vague idea floating around in my head, but I haven’t sat down and forced it to gel. I’ve actually *gasp* been taking a break from writing for the last several days! I can’t afford a real vacation from work, but I can at least take a break from my second job.

…Just in time to try and tame the mess in the house. I think most writers must have messy, disorganized houses (unless they can afford a housekeeper). You just don’t have time to clean when there’s so much reading and writing to be done. (This may be why my two lead protagonists are neat-freaks: living vicariously!)

On a side note, I was in a local shop today, and I’ve already picked out the antique furniture and Victorian prints that I want in my writer’s cottage. Now, besides needing the cottage, I need $1,000 to drop on the furnishings.

E-Book Success Story

I recently mentioned that one good thing about e-books (and print-on-demand) is that you have more time to become successful than in traditional publishing.

Amazon just featured the story of author Creston Mapes, who had this very thing happen to him.

“During the next eight years of doing all that was humanly possible to market my [traditionally-published] books, they sold less than 20,000 copies combined—a sales performance my own publisher would later call ‘dismal.’

Creston was certain that the books deserved a bigger audience. So, he decided to take advantage of Amazon’s independent self-publishing platform, which allows any author to bring their books directly to market. He got the rights back to those three novels, put his own covers on them, and used the self-service platform to put them on Kindle.

After offering his first book for free for a weekend, he went to the top of the Kindle charts and has stayed there.

Mapes had glowing reviews for his books, and obviously he had professionally-designed and edited books, so why didn’t they sell in bookstores? Maybe his publisher didn’t market them correctly. Maybe they were competing against much bigger books during that same time frame. Or–most likely–he just needed some time to build up word-of-mouth referrals (the biggest source of sales). But when you only have 2-4 weeks on shelves, it can be hard to get that going. (Mark Coker referred to that as “the death clock” ticking away.)

Miscellaneous Miscellanea

I have a number of things to report, none of which are long enough to merit their own blog post (if you haven’t noticed yet, I don’t do short blog posts), so I thought I’d throw them all together into one post.

Twitter

I’ve had a Twitter account for a couple of years now, but I’ve only used it for following Tweet Your Prayers @TheKotel. (Aside: This is a really neat thing where you can tweet a prayer privately to Alon, and he will print it off and deposit it inside the Kotel–a.k.a. the Western Wall or Wailing Wall.)

Personally, I find the idea of Twitter bewildering. I don’t think I can say my name in less than 140 characters; how could I (or anyone else) possibly say anything worthwhile in that amount of space? And if nothing worthwhile is said, what’s the point?

I’m still not convinced that Twitter can be used for anything other than gossip and short jokes, but it seems everyone is recommending it to authors, so I thought I would give it a try. I do occasionally find myself with some nugget of information or witty observation to pass along which doesn’t merit its own blog post. I sometimes share it on my Facebook fan page, but I’m not happy with the fact that Facebook chooses not to share those posts with the vast majority of my fans (only 4-11% of people see any given post by me on their wall). Even worse than saying something that’s not worthwhile is saying something worthwhile and having no one hear it. So maybe I can split the difference.

One More Benefit to E-Books

In a previous post, I mentioned 7 things that make e-books great for authors. Here’s #8: it’s free and easy to give someone a copy of your book.

As I draw closer to my publication date, I’m seeing the benefit to this. Old-school authors talk about mailing reviewers a copy of their book. That costs money three times over: the cost of the book, the cost to mail it to me, then the cost to mail it to someone else. An e-book eliminates all cost. I can e-mail my book to anyone in the world and they’ll have it in less than a minute.

While not all reviewers are going to accept e-books, I think the tide will turn in favor of them. Early on, agents didn’t want e-mails, now more accept only e-mails than those who accept only paper copies.

Also, it’s easy to give an e-book away as a contest prize (something I plan on doing in the future; stay tuned!) or use it to barter work with someone.

Horrible Writing Knows No (Genre) Boundaries

While scoping out the competition in the contemporary romance novella section on Amazon the other day, I saw a really terrible line.

“…their love as rocky as the Maine coast.”

I had a good laugh, then began to wonder if I can make it as a romance writer, because I don’t write stuff like that. My bosoms don’t heave, no one stares into anyone else’s limpid (or limpet) orbs, etc. I figure I’ll either be an utter flop, or a great success; it all depends on if people expect such cheese-filled writing, or if they’re tired of it and would rather not read it.

Of course, making fun of cheesy romances is like shooting fish in a barrel. But I’m beginning to wonder about “serious” literature as well.

Just the other day, I picked up my alumni magazine and started to read an article by one of the creative writing professors–a man who has published poetry and won awards. And at the very beginning of the article (note: article, not poem), he uttered this line:

“It was a clear, cold November day, that kind of day when the purity of the air gives a luminous, hard-edged clarity to the drawl of the rustic landscape.”

I was with him when he said it was clear and cold and in November. I even understood “purity of air” because there are times–namely in the fall–when the air does seem very pure. But I started to lose him with luminous, because I’m not sure how air can make something luminous (air does not equal light). I couldn’t really wrap my imagination around the idea of air giving anything a hard-edged clarity, either, although if that had been the only confusing reference, I probably would have let it slide. But then he ends with “drawl of the rustic landscape.”

Drawl of the rustic landscape? Are you kidding me? Trust me, I know what a drawl is. It’s what I do every time I open my mouth to speak. Landscapes don’t drawl–not even in metaphor.

Overall, it sounds like someone just slapped a lot of adjectives together and created something that has no real meaning. And this is supposed to be serious writing? I find it as hilarious as stereotypical romance language, to be honest.

But wait, there’s more.

“There is a body of writing (buddy, it ain’t yours) which, taken seriously as a repository of human emotion, reminds us that landscapes, particularly autumn landscapes, have a way of delighting us with their beauty into the subtle dislocations of aesthetic apprehension and at the same time hurting us into introspection.”

I don’t about you, but that makes me feel discombobulated. Or, as Blackadder might say, “I’m anispeptic, phrasmotic, even compunctious.” I have an easier time reading Hebrew.

I’d finish reading the article, just for the laughs, but it’s sort of like laughing when someone takes a baseball to the groin–you can’t help doing it, but you feel vaguely guilty. Besides, I’m still not sure what the article is about, although the word “autumn” appears several times, so I think it has something to do with that.

If I ever start to babble–that effort of a tongue swelling thick with unspoken words, tripping over consonants like an infant learning to walk–please call me out on it. I’d rather be a commercial failure than make crap up just to sell. I’ll stoop pretty low to make money, mind you, but excessive use of meaningless adjectives is one thing I won’t do.

…Unless it’s satire. I’d totally write a story lacking a plot and full of meaningless adjectives just to make fun of people who do it with a straight face.

7 Reasons Why E-Books Are Great for Authors

Previously, I covered why e-books are great for readers. Now I’ll point out a few reasons why e-books (or, more specifically, self-publishing) is good for writers.

1. Freedom of Choice.

This is a point that’s beneficial to both readers and writers. Right now, publishers decide what we do and don’t read. Agents get 1,000 queries or more every month, but only select 1% of those to send to publishers. Publishers no doubt get many more (especially publishers that accept agentless queries), yet they select a very small percentage–probably also in the 1% range.

That means that every year, there are tens of thousands–and probably hundreds of thousands–of books that are never published.

Ever wonder what was in those rejected books?

The vast majority of people think that rejected books were rejected because they suck, and that published books must not suck. I know this isn’t true, because I’ve read published books so awful, I can’t imagine anyone would ever like them, and John Grisham could get no one to accept his debut novel, A Time to Kill, and he had to pay to self-publish it himself.

While certainly publishers weed out a lot of crap, there are plenty of books which end up rejected simply because the publisher thinks they won’t make money from it.

Let’s reinforce that point. A publisher exists to make money. If a book won’t make them enough money–no matter how wonderful a book it is–they will not publish it.

That means that when we pick up a traditionally-published book, we’re picking up something that’s already been pre-selected for us. We’re reading what someone else thinks we should read (and hopes we’ll pay money for).

Because anyone can publish an e-book, there is no longer a small number of companies dictating what we will and will not have access to.

2. Diversity of Topics.

In America, the largest group of readers (by far and away) are white women. And that trend seems to be growing–at least in respect to women.

Is this because men and non-whites don’t like to read? I don’t think so.

Kate Hart has a summary of YA book covers on her blog, and I think we can see why men and non-white women aren’t reading: there aren’t any books written for them. There are few non-white women shown on book covers, and there are almost no books that show only a male figure. Granted, that’s only a summary of YA books, but I think you’d find that trend pretty consistent in adult books. I mean, look at Christian fiction; I don’t think any of it’s written for a man, and I’ve never seen a non-white person on a cover. But that’s not because there aren’t men in church, and certainly there’s a large portion of the black population–especially in the South–which is Christian.

As Kate points out, there were only 9 black girls on the covers of over 900 YA books, but 30 white girls in formal dresses (and many more in non-formal clothing).

Maybe everyone who is not a white girl is tired of reading about rich white girls.

That’s where self-publishing comes in. No doubt it’s going to take a little while to get started, but I foresee a day when e-books will hold a wealth of diverse characters (and the diverse authors needed to produce them). That’s because people who self-publish have very different goals than traditional publishers, and they measure success differently. A recent survey of self-published authors finds that, while most self-published authors aren’t bringing in much money (50% make less than $500 a year), almost all of them are happy for having done it and plan on doing it again.

But money isn’t always the primary goal for self-published writers, they discovered, with only 5% considering themselves “unsuccessful”. The respondents were also still keen to continue self-publishing: nearly half plan to release more titles this year than they did last, and 24% have a whopping five or more works due for publication this year. (from: Steve Umstead: Paginations)

In other words, self-published authors are writing and publishing for its own sake. And that means they can write books for male Latinos, lesbians, and handicapped Asian boys all day long. Never mind the market for those types of books is small (now); for a self-published author, writing doesn’t have to be only about money. Writers can write to spread a message or empower a community. And it stands to reason that if enough people write books for a particular group, more of that group will start reading. If you write it, they will come (and read it).

3. We’re Returning to Our Publishing Roots

Some people may lament the lack of big-publisher control over what gets published (we’re back to that idea that self-published stuff is crap). But, in fact, a publishing monopoly is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of the printed word.

Originally, there were no publishing companies. People who had a book they wanted to publish raised funds from wealthy patrons (the original form of Kickstarter), wrote a glowing piece of praise for their patron(s) in the front of the book, then sent it to the printer.

In the 18th century, everyone was printing their opinions (the original form of a blog) in pamphlets and distributing them. Broadsides were nailed up on the sides of buildings or on fences or wherever (hence the old signs “Post No Bills;” that was for property owners who didn’t want their fence or wall used like a bulletin board), and this was how people communicated their ideas to one another before Facebook.

Then publishing companies came into being, and at first it seemed like a good thing. Rather than having to go out and stump to raise money for yourself, you could submit your manuscript to a publisher and, if they liked it, they would print it at no cost to you. Instead, they would recoup their costs in a percentage of your sales. This allowed you more time to write and kept you from having to do that most unbecoming task–ask for money.

But, eventually, all printing presses came solely under the control of publishing houses, and self-publishing disappeared almost entirely. A monopoly was born.

However, that monopoly is finally breaking down. New advances in printing presses allows for the print-on-demand book. I can (and will) send my book to CreateSpace, and anyone who wants a printed copy can order one on Amazon. They will print it immediately (and in the United States, no less; my proofs were all made in Charleston, SC), and ship it to you. I don’t have to raise money to pay for the publishing up front and I don’t have to share my profits with a publisher.

4. Diversity of Writers

The most popular books tend to be written by a small number of authors. These popular authors are selected, groomed, and nurtured by agents and/or publishers into stars, the way horses are brought up to be Derby winners. They are read not just because they good and interesting, but because it seems everyone else is reading them (and that has a lot to do with marketing).

Then there are the middle market writers–people who make a living as writers, but who don’t have the fame and fortune. Publishing houses spend much less on marketing their works than on someone famous, like Stephen King.

By creating a tiered system, where a select few authors get most of the publisher’s resources, and the rest get little, it decreases the diversity of authors. People who aren’t getting big advances or perks are going to produce less writing because they have to spend more time doing the support work (marketing, etc.).

Of course, there’s a disparity among self-published authors as well. The previously-mentioned survey found that the top 10% of successful writers were much, much more successful than the 10-20% crowd. This is actually a common (although not easy to understand) mathematical principal. However, those people are at the top because they wrote stuff people like, not because someone decided they should be on top and gave them lots of money to make sure they got there.

Mind you, I’m not knocking top authors, who are usually really good writers (except maybe Dan Brown, who is just “eh” in my opinion). But there are usually people just as good who are not on top because they don’t have the money to do the necessary marketing. And, again, we come back to major publishing houses deciding who will and will not be successful.

5. Higher Profits

The simple fact is that self-published authors make more money per book than traditionally-published authors. The conventional thought is that publishers edit and design and market books and increase sales so much that they more than pay for their costs. And while that’s probably true for the highest-grossing authors, middle market authors may not be getting the best deal, as more marketing chores are falling back on them.

Traditional publishing can also limit your sales. For example, my husband was recently lamenting the fact that Take a Thousand Eggs or More–a cornerstone in medieval cooking research–was out of print and the price for the two volume set was over $100 and climbing. It’s not uncommon to encounter this problem, as academic books are usually printed in small runs and their prices start high and get higher as they become harder to find.

Now, imagine you are the author of that book. You are no longer making money from it, because the copies in circulation are all used. Unless you can find someone who will print it again, your profits are done. But let’s say you still have the digital rights to your book. It wouldn’t take much work to format it for digital publishing, and you could sell it as a single book for $19.99 (and keep 70% of that money for yourself). People who can’t afford the $100 printed copies would snatch up copies at $20 a pop.

Suddenly you’re making money again.

And, as I mentioned, small runs of academic books are usually quite expensive, limiting the number of people who can afford to own them. If, however, you print-on-demand or have an e-book option, you can charge less money and open yourself up to a wider audience. Sure, you’re never going to be on the New York Times Bestseller List with your book, “Medieval Bathtubs,” but by dropping the cost of a copy of your book from $49.99 to $19.99, you will find you not only sell more, but I think you’ll find you make more money in the long run.

6. Different types of work

Traditional publishing has long avoided short stories, novellas, and poetry. If you think you’re having a hard time getting publishing as a novelist, try being a poet.

The e-book market changes that, though. What was once confined to a small number of literary magazines can now be found on Amazon. I can’t speak to the popularity of poetry sales, but novellas and short stories seem to be becoming very popular. People have less time to read, but have these convenient little devices–like smartphones–that allow them to read wherever they are–on the subway, at the doctor’s office, sitting in a traffic jam on the interstate. Short stories and novellas are just the thing to fill up those short bursts of downtime.

And this is one market that traditional publishing is likely to never touch. Publishing individual short stories is not cost-effective and anthologies of short stories are notoriously hard to sell.

7. Easy to Edit

Oh, my God! There’s an error in my e-book! I’ll go into Word, fix it, save it as an HTML document, convert it to Kindle format and upload it again. Phew, tomorrow it will be up for sale in its corrected form.

It’s just that easy.

For print-on-demand books, like CreateSpace, there may be a fee to upload a new text (and there will be a longer downtime, because you will have to review the proof and agree to it before it goes back up for sale), but still, it’s not too hard to make changes after the fact. But for traditionally-published books–where tens of thousands are printed at once–there’s no getting a mistake out of them until the second print run (if you merit a second run). Granted, there are fewer errors in traditionally-published books, but I’ve read first-runs (including J. K. Rowling) which had typos. They’re like stains in whites–all but impossible to get out.

Independent Books and Independent Booksellers

The news article that started this two-part series was about independent bookstores which are against e-books because they threaten to put them out of business.

And, in one sense, they’re right: if people switch to e-books, there will be no need for bookstores–independent or chain (with the exception of used bookstores, which will survive for quite a while after the death of regular bookstores). This is just the way of the world, Luddites. You can smoke hand-rolled cigarettes over a pint of cheap beer and mourn the loss of your bookstore with your fellow-destitute business owners: those people who formerly owned video rental stores.

Or you can reinvent yourselves before death overtakes you.

Some independent bookstores have invested in print-on-demand technology, turning their little bookstores into little printing companies. Authors who go through them are usually guaranteed shelf space in the store, as well as fulfillment of online orders. For an added fee, the author can hand off their file and the store will do all the necessary formatting, design a cover, etc. They will even format it as an e-book and publish it for you through online retailers (just like a large publishing company).

Not only does this create a new form of revenue (one that’s growing in popularity, as more people want to self-publish), but suddenly their bookstore has unique books that you can’t find anywhere else. This is also a boon for people who publish books on local culture and history, which most traditional publishers don’t want to bother with because the profit margin is so low.

You can even get out-of-copyright books printed, so long as there is a copy of it floating around the internet (like on Google eBooks or Project Gutenberg). While e-books may make chain bookstores unprofitable and cause them to close up shop, book connoisseurs will still be going to these new independent bookstores to order printed books. Independent bookstores will have the opportunity to become the equivalent of a micro-brewery for beer connoisseurs.

Win-win for everyone all around.

7 Reasons why E-Books are Great

Josephine Mangani on YABR mentioned that there is a protest brewing at a literary festival in Britain.

You can have my book when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

The protest? E-books are ruining “real” books. (I should point out that the protestors are independent bookstore owners.)

This is certainly not the first protest, nor will it be the last. All over the internet and in real life, people are complaining about or praising e-books. Josephine thinks there’s room for both. (I know that, despite my love of my Kindle, I still enjoy the tactile quality of a book more.) Other people think that the e-book will destroy all printed books (and it may very well do so; I used to write only with pencil and paper, and now I only write on the computer).

Here are the benefits of e-books for readers:

1. Instant gratification. If you have a wi-fi or wireless connection, you can buy a book. Now. Why wait to go to the store? You might talk yourself out of buying it or forget about it before you get there. With instant shopping, there’s never a delay. Shoot me up, Amazon!

2. While traditional publishers are charging print-book prices for some e-books ($9.99 for an e-book? Really?), that is not going to last long; prices will fall. For the bibliophile, that means more books on the same budget. Sorry, you’re not going to find bibliophiles protesting that development.

3. Everyday, places like Google and Project Gutenberg are scanning old, out-of-copyright books and making them available online. For free. Freeeeeeeee. As a medieval re-enactor, there has been more than one occasion where I or my husband have been thwarted in our attempts at research because the book we need is out of print and the cheapest copy online is $300. But as time marches forward, the curse of out-of-print books will increasingly fade into memory. No e-book goes out of print.

4. A corollary to #3 is that libraries will eventually have digital copies of books. Imagine the power of sitting in your writing cottage overlooking the Cliffs of Moher (okay, that’s my writing cottage) and connecting your Kindle to the internet and borrowing a book on Bohemian shoes of the 14th century from the Národní Knihovna České Republiky. (The Czech National Library is already digitizing some of their antique books for Google.) And, depending on the technology encoding the borrowed book, you might be able to run it through Google Translate, so not only can you look at the pretty pictures, but you can get a general idea of what it’s saying. No longer will information be stored in a few far-flung repositories of knowledge, inaccessible by the average person.

5. E-readers are light and thin. I can slip my Kindle into my pocketbook and have hundreds of books instantly at my fingertips. And between also storing books in an internet cloud, and having access to stores, libraries, and free book sites via the internet, your reading choices are damn-near limitless.

6. If disaster were to strike our house at the moment (God forbid), our library would be wiped out existence. Not only would our books be destroyed, but our homeowner’s policy limits book claims to $500 (!). We couldn’t even replace the vast majority of it. When it comes to e-books, though, you can back them up on computers, USB keys, or internet clouds. Your e-reader may be stolen or die, but your books will live on. Just get a new reader, download everything to it again, and you’re in business before the insurance adjustor can even come to your house.

7. E-books are much more subversive than regular books. In the middle ages, it was easy for people to seize books and burn them because there were so few of them. The printing press, however, made seizure much more difficult because so many people had books, it was hard to track them all down. (The Cheese and the Worms is an interesting book about a 16th century miller who read subversive books, and *gasp* started to think about religion and God and stuff.) But the e-book takes this another step further by making it easy to transmit and hide subversive books.

Think about countries like Iran and China were there is so much censorship. It’s much more difficult for someone to smuggle a print book into the country than it is for someone to download a copy off an illicit website or share by e-mail. It’s also much easier to hide a book stored on a CD or USB key or destroy it all together when the police come knocking on your door.

I think the invention of the e-book will go down in history as the most significant development in the dissemination of information since the invention of the printing press.

In future post, I will cover the reasons why e-books are great for writers.