Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why I Say What I Say

Not too long ago I did a blog post on e-books. I had been asked by a reader whether or not paper publishers look down on epublished authors. My response was no, but I did explain a bit about when epublishing might and might not work. A few of you seemed offended by my comments, while most of you shared your success stories. Once I had a chance to reread what I had written as well as your comments, I was dissatisfied with the way it ended and wanted to explain why I say what I say when I post some of the things I post.

As many of you know, I have a number of authors who either began their careers epublished and have moved entirely into print or began their careers epublished and have moved into print but continue to sell to the occasional epublisher. Since epublishing began, I have always kept an eye on who is getting good reviews and who seems to have a growing audience. I have made contacts myself with a number of these authors and have gone on to sell their books to the big, traditional publishers. Certainly, I am in support of this venue and use it to my advantage.

So why is it that although I've had and seen so much success with authors epublishing I did not wholeheartedly encourage everyone to begin their career that way? One reason is because epublishing will not work for everyone if, as the reader clearly asked, what you're trying to do is use it as a foot in the door to the print market. In most cases epublishing works best for erotica and erotic romance, futuristic and paranormal romance, SF/Fantasy, self-help, and prescriptive nonfiction, but only if you have the type of platform to sell 10,000+ copies on your own. For some reason, editors of other genres, such as mystery/suspense, memoir, or more traditional romances, have not embraced this market.

Why do I think that's the case? I think that primarily e-books took off in these other markets when publishers weren't publishing the sub-genres. It wasn't until Ellora's Cave really started to boom that editors took notice of the types of books they were publishing and started doing the same . . . and began stealing their authors.

The other reason is that I'm reluctant to wholeheartedly endorse anything unless I know that it will universally work for everyone. Too often I've seen authors take something an editor or agent says as absolute truth. If an editor says, "The historical market is dead," it sends panic through writers' groups everywhere and authors begin burning their wonderful historical manuscripts; and they'll begin writing chick lit or erotica because the editor says, "That's what's hot now and everyone is buying it."

So many authors have had success with epublishing and have been able to really break out with a career in print publishing, but just as many have not. Just as many had poor experiences with disreputable epublishers, or just haven't found their way out of the e-book market yet. In fact, while many epublishers do actually buy books only after an editorial review, just as many will buy anything—even books not ready for publication. And, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn't work for all genres. Yes, I know every single one of you can comment with a mystery or memoir success story. Just as there are success stories with vanity presses there will always be success stories that break out of the norm with epublishing. It's important to remember, though, that they aren't the norm.

I'm not trying to tell anyone that epublishing is bad. I would be the wrong person to say that since it's certainly been a boon for me. What I'm trying to do is caution you and answer the question on how print publishing and certain editors look at this market. If you have a book that no one else would touch—maybe it's not right for New York—then you should absolutely feel free to epublish it. However, epublishing is not the same as getting a NY print publisher to pick you up. It won't necessarily launch your career in the same way and it certainly isn't necessary as a way to get published with a traditional print publisher.



BookEnds, LLC said...

Just when I think I'm the only one insane enough to start work at 6am I get an email from a client letting me know that there's a typo in today's blog. And not just in the post itself, but the headline. Rather than change it I'm just going to chuckle and say, hey agents are people too and since I've never chucked a query, proposal or even a book for typos I hope you won't either.

So read on to see "whay" I say and maybe we'll start a new language.


Anonymous said...

"the only one insane enough to start work at 6 am"

Hey! I resemble that remark!

Seriously - thanks for the view on epublishing from the agent's side of the desk, Jessica. As always, you gave us a thorough overview of the situation.


Jackie said...

No you aren't crazy, I start writing at 5AM, on break now. Thought your mis-key is acceptable,too. I do have a question on epublishing. What about the future of epublishing? I know your crystal ball is as foggy as mine. The unpublished writer thinking in long range career terms here. Have you thoughts about long range epubbing?

BookEnds, LLC said...

I think that epublishing has firmly established a place for itself, but as for exactly what's going to happen I'm afraid I would be guessing as much as you. Obviously all the major publishers are now publishing ebooks as well so it's up to the reader to decide how they prefer to buy and read books. I'm afraid I'm old fashioned and still prefer bound copies with pretty covers.

I think that epublishers are going to be around for a while, my projection is that the key to their survival and success will be thinking ahead of traditional publishers and publishing books readers want, but NY publishers haven't yet discovered.

Wendy Warren said...

Kiss-ass alert:

You are really terrific :-D

Liz Wolfe said...

I've always thought that with time, e-books will become more popular. I say that because the teens now are probably more used to seeing something on a screen than on paper, while some of us who are *cough* over 30 (or 40 or even 50) are more comfortable with paper. Personally, I'd love to read ebooks if the reader was comfortable for my hands and my eyes.
E-books are much less costly, which is why authors get such high royalty percentages. This could translate to less expensive books for readers while authors still get higher royalties. And that would be good for publishing, I'd think.

lainey bancroft said...

You fixed it! I thought it was whay cool the other whay :)

I'm hesitant to explore epublishing right now, mainly because I haven't read any ebooks. Like you, I prefer covers and the whisper of turning pages. But I do think liz wolfe makes a valid point, teens love the screen. I know my own kids would probably have to hit the Internet if I asked them what a 'library' or an 'encyclopedia' was because they've researched everything on the WWW.

I also suspect epublishing will be viewed from an environmental stand point too. 'No trees were sacrificed in the making of this novel.' 'No landfill will ever runneth over with dog-eared, discarded ebooks'

I agree epublishing is established, but I don't think I'll see it out pace traditional publishing in my lifetime.

Wendy Warren said...

Wow, I so agree, Lainey, with your comments on kids and the WWW...and also with your need to feel the book in your hands. My fingers tingle when I see all those lovely wrinkled spines sardine-squished onto my bookshelves. Palm-held reader? Nuh uhhh. (Of course, I still haven't made peace with my electric can opener.) This blog is about the only web material I can't get enough of...and I swear I am going to stop reading the I can get back to work!

Bella Andre said...

To be fair, you guys, I'd never read an e-book either when Ellora's Cave offered me a contract. I was just happy to get on board with a company that was on their way up. I no longer publish with them, but I will forever be grateful to them for opening the door to Jessica and NY publishers.

Kim Lionetti said...

Ugh! I could never curl up with a good computer screen! Call me old-fashioned, but I might just have to give up reading if it came to that...and that really wouldn't be good for my career....

I know the publishers are resistant to the change, too. Electronic publishing is still a bit of a logistical mess. Copyright infringement,'s been a real nightmare for those publishing lawyers. The music industry is only just starting to bounce back from the electronic age and user "sharing." The publishing industry wouldn't fare much better at this point. Things will eventually change, I'm sure, but at this point the demise of paper books would not be good for the publishing industry.

Jackie said...

My earlier coffee break thought was "can any of us unpublished persons ignore any segment of the publishing world. Ignore, if we want to still be writing and publishing twenty years hence."
This blog is fabulous for more than the reason the writer is fallible with her keyobard.

Liz Wolfe said...

I could read ebooks with a good reader but I could never give up paper books. I even love the smell of books.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I can't imagine epublishing will do away with good old fashioned books, it will just change them, in the same way TV and movies changed radio and now Tivo is changing TV and the Internet is changing newspapers which still somehow seem to survive.

Changes are already there though. When I first started ten or more years ago (okay more) mass market nonfiction was hot especially if you could do a book on a trendy disease or news issue. Not any more. Health books are a tough, tough sell. Why would you buy a book when you can get more up-to-date information on the Web.

I agree, teens will change the face of publishing and books, I just don't think they'll be the end of them.

Megan said...

Buying e-books is hard for teens, though, because we need access to the rents' credit cards. I have a YA story that looks like it's going to turn into a novella, and not many print publishers publish novellas. I may submit that to a few e-publishers, though I've never read an e-book. I figure, publishing an e-book probably can't harm a future career as a writer, can it?

If it can, someone please let me know!

amy m said...

E-publishing may over take print someday, but I don't think that someday is anytime soon. Music downloads are the big thing, but actual physical CDs are still made. CDs will go first, then DVDs because they're already heading in that direction.

I'm afraid that newspapers will go before books, but I hope not for a while, else I'll be out of a job!

Kate Douglas said...

What epublishing offers over print from an author's point of view is the difference in economics of producing an ebook--it's not free, obviously, due to the cost of editing, distribution and business matters such as securing ISBNs, but it's not as expensive as print. This allows the epublisher freedom to take chances on stories a print publisher won't touch--and it's why Ellora's Cave was able to test the market for erotic romance without a huge up-front investment. If you've got a story that's cutting edge, that you know is good but one you can't sell in NY, I would definitely suggest you try epublishing. My StarQuest series was too "over the top" for even Red Sage/Secrets back in 2001, but Ellora's Cave picked it up and the series sold like crazy. It continues to sell well, and the funny thing is, it's actually fairly tame by today's standards of erotica. However, that series launched me as an author of erotic romance and definitely helped pave my way to NY. However, I would definitely advise anyone looking at epublishing to do their homework. Go with an established publisher, check on their distribution, talk to their authors and learn what you can about the company's history. There have been some real horror stories of terrible contracts, royalties not being paid and companies that just disappear from cyberspace w/o leaving a trace--or money owed to authors. As with any business, you need to read contracts carefully and know what you're signing.

Alessia Brio said...

As a primarily e-published author, I think it's my niche more due to length (short stories/novellas) than genre (erotica/erotic romance). My print works are all anthologies.

That being said, I wouldn't choose and ePublisher that did not also have the means to take a book to print.