Friday, April 23, 2010

Are e-books the future of publishing?

A few months ago writer Lisa Hinsley put her thriller/horror book Coombe's Wood on Kindle. I asked Lisa to share her experience of self-publishing through Kindle:

1) What led you to decide to publish through Kindle and what have you learned from the experience?

"I took a very long time trying to decide how I was going to self-publish and if I was going to self-publish. I was very aware I was losing the first rights to my novel, and I still dreamed of being picked up by an agent and stepping up behind Stephen King as the next horror/thriller god. I eventually made the plunge into Kindle at the end of October 2009. I had just gone through another round of submissions, just received another round of no’s, but this time I had a few full reads, and comments along the lines of: This wasn’t quite right for me, but it’s good. On the back of these comments, and with an increasing queue of books behind Coombe’s Wood waiting for their moment, I uploaded my novel onto Amazon. Here are my basic sales stats: October - 1, November - 3, December - 9, January - 9, February - 6, March - 143, April - As of today 201. I have learned that I should have gone Kindle a long time ago. I am now looking into publishing Coombe’s Wood in paperback, hoping I can ride the Kindle wave to success there as well."

2) What are your future plans? (More Kindle books, paperbacks, querying, etc.?)

"At this moment in time, I have no intention of going the traditional route and acquiring an agent/publisher. I am earning more per copy sold than I ever would under a contract. I have freedom to choose my own covers and write the way I see fit. My one concession is to use an editor before any of my books go public. In my opinion, this is an area that cannot be skimped on. Readers are not going to return to authors with error-ridden books. Presently, I am finishing the edit to my next book, Sulham Close, with a view to uploading to Kindle in a couple of months. In July, Amazon are changing their royalty policy, and if Sulham Close enjoys the same success as Coombe’s Wood, I might actually be able to quit my day job based on current book sales. After Sulham Close, I have another book waiting to be edited. I would want to get this out as soon as possible. I am receiving some very good feedback from readers, and they want more of my books! The last thing I want is for them to forget me while I get the next one ready. Best things that have happened to me with Kindle: 1. I discovered I might actually be able to make a living writing. 2. I have fans finding me and emailing to say how much they enjoyed Coombe’s Wood. 3. I am now officially an Amazon Kindle bestseller. I have not left the charts since the beginning of March, and bounce between 1,000 rank overall Kindle books and 5,000. Considering there are half a million books on Kindle, I am very pleased with my overall position. Thank you, Gemi."

Lisa's experience brings about a timely question in this rapidly changing age of publishing: Is it possible for an author to earn a decent wage by directly releasing books on Kindle or other e-readers like the Nook or iPad? J.A. Konrath in this post on Galleycat, Writers: Making a Living off Kindle?, says you can . . . and he indeed does. His daily sales of self-published e-books is about 180, sold through Kindle alone. Keep in mind, however, that he already had an established career as a novelist through a traditional publisher. Still, he now earns more on his self-published e-books than he does on his higher priced e-books put out by his publisher.

Konrath is very frank, in that he says he much prefers writing to the business of peddling his books. He maintains an active blog, participates in various forums and does an insane amount of book signings at bookstores. It yet remains to be seen if a new author could establish and build a lucrative career beginning by publishing with Kindle or other e-book formats, but the possibility certainly exists.

With print-on-demand technology, e-books, and opportunities for marketing via the internet, a whole new world has opened up for writers to blaze their own path to building readership. Traditional publishing is probably not going to die anytime soon, but it is changing. If, more and more, publishers are being forced to be more selective about plucking new talent from the slush pile - are paperbooks on bookstore shelves the only way anymore for readers to discover new writers? Perhaps not.

About a year ago, someone mentioned Smashwords on a writers' forum I belong to. Smashwords is a distributor of e-books. Books listed on Smashwords can be downloaded to your Sony reader, iPhone, iPod Touch, Amazon Kindle and will soon be available on Apple's much-talked-about new iPad device. When I checked out the site in its earlier stages, there was a limited selection of historical fiction available. A more recent visit to the site, however, revealed new titles being uploaded daily. While there is no vetting for quality, readers may sample part of the book before purchasing it. Smashwords believes that the books of the highest quality will gather a following and rise to the top, while those of lesser quality will simply not sell and sink to the bottom. They also give indie authors and publishers the option of setting their own prices ($.99 being the minimum) and deciding how much of the book to offer for free viewing.

One thing is clearly happening here: e-books are being offered at lower prices than their paper counterparts, the intention being to create higher volume sales. Some authors are even going directly to e-book sales and bypassing paperbooks altogether. I myself readily admit that I've foregone buying a hardback book, even by my favorite authors, because of the high sticker prices. I do sometimes ask for them as Christmas or birthday gifts, because they are so durable. But more often than not I either wait for the paperback or borrow it from the library. And when it comes to trying out new authors --- I would most certainly be willing to plop down a few bucks to read a book on my PC or e-reader.

For an overview of the evolving model between publishers and e-book distributors like Amazon, Apple and Google Editions, check out this (rather lengthy) article in the New Yorker: Publish or Perish - can the iPad top the Kindle and save the book business?

One thing's for sure, publishing in the 21st century will not be at all like it was in the 20th.

Until later,


L.C. Evans said...

Thank for the nice article. By the way, I've read Coombe's Wood and really enjoyed it. Have also read and enjoyed some of J.A. Konrath's books. I'm glad Kindle publishing came along and gave me the chance to read so many great books without having to spend a ton of money.

Anita Davison said...

I applaud your enterprise, gemi and you are obviously doing extensive research before jumping in. This article certainly gives pause for thought, not just to authors but agents and publishers should read it too! Change is coming.