THE E-BOOK CRAZE

The rise of the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and the iPhone have fueled a revolution in publishing. More and more readers want to download their books in electronic formats. This brings up several issues for writers. First is the fear that ebooks will replace print books, and brick-and-mortar stores will become a thing of the past. How many people buy music CDs these days? Even libraries are involved in digital lending. About 5400 public libraries today offer e-books and digitally downloaded audio books. NetLibrary, a provider of e-books to libraries, has seen circulation rise 21% this year. I’m not saying books will disappear altogether; they’ll just change format. This affects income for writers since ebooks may sell at a lower price point than print editions. It involves issues of piracy as well as reversion of rights clauses.

E-rights are very important in publishing contracts these days, even for traditionally published authors. Many regular publishers are jumping on the bandwagon and putting out electronic versions of their print published works. Then there are ebook only publishers. Harlequin started Carina Press, a purely e-book venture. Those of us in the writing community have known about Samhain, The Wild Rose Press, Loose ID, and many other ebook pubs, for several years. But herein lies another problem: publisher recognition.

According to the standards of professional writing organizations, some of these publishers do not meet their criteria and are therefore not approved, meaning their authors are not eligible for published author status. This has been a growing point of contention among authors and a thorny issue. The well known ebook pubs have a selective policy and editors scour through manuscripts just like a traditional pub. Editing services are included so an author goes through a similar process as for a print pub. But certain qualifications demanded by professional organizations render these authors little better than self-pubs in status. For example, one writing org requires for recognition that a publisher pays an advance of at least $1000. This lets out many of the ebook pubs who offer no advance, just a royalty rate. Others may offer a small token advance . Some e-book publishers will offer the book as a POD (print-on-demand) as well, either simultaneously with electronic publication or later after certain sales quotas are met. But the profession organizations also demand that an approved publisher must have a print run and distribution of 1000 copies or more of each title they produce. This model doesn’t work for POD presses. How this will play out in the industry remains to be seen. Eventually, the professional writing organizations may have to rethink their definitions of acceptable publishers in lieu of the e-book explosion.

Royalty rates are another problem. For books that don’t have to be printed and stockpiled in warehouses, authors should be able to earn a higher royalty rate. For this reason, authors should carefully compare ebook publishing houses and e-rights clauses to know their options.

Some of these books may appear on bookstore shelves, but for the most part, readers have to order them online. Writers have to step up their Internet promotion and learn how to deal with booksellers who won’t work with ebooks or POD. But one thing is sure: writers who want to get their work in front of as many readers as possible will want their novel available in as a downloadable ebook.

Read more about this topic here:

E-Reads

Libraries article

NY Times articles

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SELF-PUBLISHING

Self-publishing is rising in popularity these days. It used to be that books vetted by agents and accepted by editors went through quality control measures. In other words, the writing was up to professional standards and the story had a special zing to it that made an editor take notice. But if any Joe can publish, how is a reader to distinguish between what’s classy and what’s crap?

I have no problem with self-publishing under certain circumstances. For example, someone wants to publish their memoirs to share with her family. Or perhaps an expert in a subject wants to publish a nonfiction book to sell on the speaking circuit. I’ve considered going this route for a book my father wrote concerning his hitchhiking adventures in 1939. Thus in some circles, self-publishing is acceptable. Even legitimately published fiction authors may find themselves suddenly orphaned without an editor, or their line closes, or their option book isn’t renewed. They may view self-publishing as a viable option after a series of rejections by the major pub houses. In this case, their writing will be polished enough that quality won’t be lost.

In fact, why not bypass a publisher altogether when you can convert your own files and submit them electronically for publication as an e-book or POD (print-on-demand)? Maybe this will be the wave of the future, especially if print books go the way of the music CD. Then who needs a publishing house or an agent? Well, I’ll tell you. Authors who want the distribution and support of a royalty-paying publisher. Readers who want quality control so they don’t pick up a book by Joe Schmoe who has no clue how to write. Booksellers who need to be able to return unsold books to the publisher. Change is in the wind, but writers still need traditional publishers if they want to make some money at this career. They still need agents to help them find a publisher for their work. And publishers still need authors, for who else will write the stories of tomorrow?

These publishers may produce ebook or POD formats, but their editors still scour through manuscripts looking for polished work and a unique voice. In other words, they are selective. Self-publishing skirts this process, dissolves the barriers, and lets anyone have a voice. For experienced writers, this isn’t a problem. Their work will still be up to professional standards. But how is a reader to tell the difference between their book and the enthusiastic aspiring author who has no clue about pacing, characterization, and plot? Herein lies the danger of self-publishing, that bad books will flood the marketplace and turn off readers. And if it’s one thing all writers want, it is for readership to increase, not diminish.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE

Writers loops are abuzz with discussion over the bomb dropped by Harlequin, the renowned romance publisher, that they are starting a vanity press originally called Harlequin Horizons. Due to protests in the professional writing community, they’ve issued a notice saying they will change the name to one that does not mention Harlequin at all.

Vanity presses are unscrupulous publishing houses that make profits from aspiring writers instead of profits from book sales. Why is this wrong? Because writers have to pay vanity presses to publish their work, not the other way around as with a traditional publisher who pays an advance against royalties. Writers who pay to have their work published are denied recognition in professional writing organizations.

Both RWA and MWA have already taken measures to challenge Harlequin’s status on their approved publisher list. This would make their legitimately published authors ineligible for the RITA or EDGAR Awards. Now SFWA has stepped up to the plate and issued a statement as well: http://tinyurl.com/yj4x8eu

Adding fuel to the fire is the paid editorial service Harlequin offers. Publishers who make referrals to editing services also prey on unpublished writers, who may become so frustrated with the submission process that they hire book editors to improve their work and make it more saleable. They believe they’ll become rich and famous once a book editor fixes their work and it sells. But having someone else edit your work doesn’t teach you the principles of writing. It doesn’t train you for a long term career. It’s the easy way out. Nor does it guarantee a sale.

Either venture is a way to take advantage of naive writers. Newbies may feel that acceptance into Harlequin’s vanity press program gives them a chance to have their book picked up for the traditional route. It’s unlikely, seeing how the slush pile for the regular Harlequin lines are huge enough. Are those editors really going to be looking for more manuscripts?

Harlequin has been a highly respected name in publishing forever. We’ll have to see how this plays out. Publishing is in a flux and change is inevitable, but this one doesn’t help writers. It helps the big corporation that will make money off inexperienced writers desperate to see their books in print.

More discussion online:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Writer Beware

Ashley Grayson Blog

Jackie Kessler Blog

Pub Rants