Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sheila Connolly on EPublishing

Sheila Connolly
Called Home
Publisher: Beyond the Page
Pub date: July 2011

(Click to Buy)

Sheila Connolly
Bitter Harvest
Publisher: Berkley
Pub date: August 2011

(Click to Buy)


I will confess to being "of a certain age," and that means that I grew up reading pages, not pixels. I learned to type (the young'uns would call that "keyboarding") in a summer school course on a manual typewriter. The room at the local middle school where we met to pound on those hulking machines wasn't air-conditioned, so it was six weeks of hell.

When I was a Ph.D. candidate in art history, I had to produce a doctoral thesis that was some two hundred double-spaced pages long (that was just the text—pictures had a volume all their own). On a non-correcting typewriter (at least it was electric). The submission guidelines stated that there could be no more than two typing errors per page, plus I had to insert footnotes manually on each page. You can bet that there was a lot of cursing and a lot of wasted paper.

As you might guess, I have embraced the electronic age. I love the ease of editing on a computer, where you can delete vast swaths of text—but save them just in case you might want them later. Where you can store your precious material on disks, flash drives, external hard drives, and off-site (or all of the above, if you're really paranoid about losing anything).

But until now I've been leery of entering the world of electronic publication. Silly, I know—I have plenty of writer friends who have taken the plunge successfully. But the transition is challenging. I have been collecting books as long as I have been reading, and I've been reading as long as I can remember. I have a copy of the children's anthology Read Me More Stories, which, according to the inscription inside, was given to me when I was three, that I "improved" with my own scribbled additions. I have full shelves honoring my science fiction phase, my women's fiction phase, and of course, my mystery phase (by far the largest group, and still growing). In fact, I have so many books that I've run out of space for them, even after donating five boxes of the overflow to our local library this week. So the time has come to face electronic reality.

I think all of us involved in the publishing industry these days—writers and publishers alike—are struggling to understand and take advantage of the possibilities of electronic publishing and distribution. We've watched the Borders chain implode, and seen too many small independent bookstores shut down. Yet people still read, and the electronic vendors make our books available to a far wider group of readers than ever before. They make it possible to acquire a book in a minute, if something catches your fancy. They make it possible to travel anywhere with a library tucked in your bag—you need never be caught without something to read. As someone who has been known to read ancient mildewed magazines stuffed into sofa cushions because I couldn't find anything else, this is an incredible boon.

Last month Beyond the Page published my first ebook, Called Home. I just wrote it; they formatted it and uploaded it to all the right places. This was something I had written a long time ago; in fact, it was the first chapter of the original version of what eventually was published as One Bad Apple. There were changes along the way, but recently I realized that the story worked well as a prequel to the rest of the Orchard Mystery series: the story takes place just after my protagonist, Meg Corey, has arrived in Granford, and she knows no one, and she certainly hasn't found any bodies yet. And yet in that single chapter I managed to lay out and solve a murder mystery.

Does epublishing mean the end of books as we know them? I don't think so. Writers still write the words, and readers still want to read them. The physical form is secondary. It may take a while for people to change their mind-set, but that was probably true when the lightbulb and the telephone were invented. Epublishing is only going to grow, and now I've got one toe in the water.


Deb said...

Glad you are taking the 'plunge'. Those are beautiful book covers.

wry wryter said...

Sheila, your writing history sounds just like mine, typing class as a pre-‘cursor’ to keyboarding. I too love how computers have enhanced our abilities by easing procedure.

I so admire what you are doing but I’m still holding out for the feel of the book in my hand and the smell of the pages, once, just once and then the future can take over.
It’s a little like taking the horse for a last ride before I buy a Model A. Call me old fashioned but I just hate to see all the horses put out to pasture.

BTP sounds like a wonderful dealership. I'm standing outside the window looking at all the shiny new Chevy's. I just don't have the nerve to open the door.

Todd Smith said...

Do people in the world actually call typing keyboarding?

Do you all still surf the world wide web?

BTP is perfect for those type of people, but not for my generation.

Christie Koester said...

Kind of like photographs in a way. I used to love putting them in albums (but had a real hard time find a good spot for the negatives). I never thought I’d accept digital cameras but now I don't mind keeping all my pictures on a portable hard drive. I can click through them, print them if I want to and best of all know they are always there in one convenient spot.

writerslane said...

Thanks, Sheila. Your post may have pushed me toward epubbing. I have several manuscripts that have come close to being taken on by agents and publishers only to fall short of the brass ring. I write professionally, and when I posted a chapter of one of my novels online, I had several Facebook friends and neighbors wanting to know where they could purchase my book because they liked the first chapter. I told them it was just a sample and hasn't been published yet. I'm beginning to realize that my books don't strike a chord with young, NYC agents who are the gatekeepers, but they do with middle-aged, suburban wives and moms. I think I found my market now I just need to get the books to them. I submitted the manuscript this week to a new batch of agents. If they pass this time, I'm epublishing. Thanks for the nudge toward a decision.

Sheila Connolly said...

Wry Wryter, I love the "pre-'cursor'" pun--I've have to use that.

Todd, I know I'm a dinosaur. I recognize that ebooks are our future, but I've got one foot in the old publishing world and one in the new. I love physical books, but the point of writing is to share your stories, and digital formats do that just as well, if not better. Hey, I've got the best of both worlds right now: all my new releases come out in both paper and digital formats (thank you, Jessica!).

Debra Lynn Lazar said...

EPublishing is a fact of life. It's taken over the literary world like the iPod took over the music world. It's simply a matter of figuring out how to best incorporate it into your career.

Good for you, Sheila, for doing just that. ;-)

Anonymous said...

This was an adorable post.

You talked about your past, you promoted your book, you told great stories, and I loved it.

But you said nothing at all about your so-called experience with e-publishing that offers anyone any information about Beyond the Book.

I'm curious about this:

Did you self-publish this book with Beyond the Book or is Beyond the Book an actual e-publishing house?

Did you have to make an investment to have this book published?

Did you have to pay for editing, copy editing, and cover art?

I think if someone is going to post about their experience in e-publishing, these are valid questions. A lot of people out there don't understand what exactly Beyond the Book is.

If you go to any reputable e-publisher's web site, you'll get guidelines and all the info you need.

Robena Grant said...

What a nice post, and gorgeous book covers. I recently injured my leg and bought a Kindle to entertain me in my recuperation. It has become my BFF. I'll look for your books.
And, writers lane, I'm right on track with you.

Anonymous said...

Congrats. You now know what the rest of the writing world knew three years ago.

enewmeyer said...

If, and hopefully when, I get published, I would want my book available both in print and electronically. I can't imagine never getting to hold my book in my hand or see it grace my bookcase. Old dreams die hard, I guess.

Sheila Connolly said...

Anonymous, I'm hesitant to describe details about Beyond the Page because I don't think anything there is set in stone, and there is a lot of variation in the deals that different authors have with them (see Monday's post).

No, I paid nothing up front. In my case, we are splitting the proceeds (other authors may have made different arrangements). BTP's share covers their "production" costs, including the cover (which I think is great). Could I do it myself and get a higher cut of the profits? Yes, most likely, but at the moment I am not prepared to learn the rope of e-publishing, and there would be some costs associated with doing it myself--the cover, copy-editing, and so on, at the very least.

But there's no restriction on what I do with other works in the future, unless Berkley Prime Crime holds some rights to the characters, the setting, etc., in the work I can go solo, or I can use BTP in a number of different ways.

Having said that, I can tell you that BTP was very easy to work with and made the process simple for me. I thought that was worth paying for (or giving up some of the proceeds), at least for my first time out.

Robena, heal well! I broke my ankle earlier this year, and it still isn't quite back to where it was. But improving steadily!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering :)

Anon @10:33

J.P. Kurzitza said...

Well, I guess all it takes to recognize the changing times is a PhD. Maybe "The Big Six" should start employing more PhDs so they might better adapt. After all, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time now. And last I checked Amazon and the Kindle were doing very, very, very, very well... said...

Congratulations, and thanks for sharing, Sheila!

I am releasing my first ebook right now, and I have to say, getting an email back from a book blogger saying "Sure, I'll read it," was EVERY BIT as exciting as getting an email from an agent who said the same.

I think that before I self-published, I thought I could only get that happy "Yay, somebody's going to read my book!" feeling from the publishing industry. Now I realize there are a lot of people out there! And not all of them are as busy as the agents, most of whom are the loveliest people in the world who love books just as passionately as writers do, but are just a bit too busy to give us all the attention we like. :-)

Kaitlyne said...

I know this is going to sound rude, this is basically an advertisement for the agency's new self-publishing services? Does anyone else feel like that's a little disingenuous?

First, I feel like there should be some sort of clarification that epublishing and self-publishing are two different things. I'm under the impression that BTP is essentially established for aiding self-publishing. Self-publishing and e-publishing might overlap, but they're not the same, and there are plenty of well-established epublishers out there who are certainly commercial.

This concerns me because it gives the wrong impression to people who may not understand, or implies that all epublishing is self-publishing. Perhaps epublishing is a good choice for some authors, but self-publishing may not be. There needs to be a distinction in terms.

Second, this doesn't seem to mention that Ms. Connolly is a multi-published author who can be assumed to have a following already. She is at an advantage. Would BTP be able to provide the same sort of success for a new, unpublished author? Would a new,unpublished author read this and assume that they'll have similar success without realizing that they're hearing from an already successful author?

On the surface, this is a nice post, and maybe I'm just being cynical, but it really does bother me that it's essentially an advertisement stating "Come submit to this publisher they're great" without giving all of the information.

I'm highly uncomfortable with this post, and with the endeavor honestly. I feel like there are a lot of unanswered questions, and, in my opinion, this doesn't do much to clarify anything. In fact, it only obfuscates things more.

I hate to say this because I've been a big fan of BookEnds for a long time. The agency was always one I have respected. I think the people involved are good people, but everything about this makes me uncomfortable. I've seen too much that sounds familiar from shadier publishers, and while I want to give BookEnds the benefit of the doubt, I would feel much better if the questions were addressed clearly.

Posts like this don't actually do much to assuage my concerns. If anything, it accomplishes the opposite.

Margo Lerwill said...

Anonymous said...
"Congrats. You now know what the rest of the writing world knew three years ago."

Wow, that came off snotty. I hope it wasn't meant that way.

Please, people, don't take this anonymous attitude as typical of self-publishers. Plenty of us don't see this as an us-v-them war that excuses rude behavior.

Grace said...

This post confuses me. Your post makes it sound like this is your first e-published book, yet I see that your Berkley books from 2008 have Kindle editions. So how is the BTP book your first foray into e-publishing? How is e-publishing through BTP better than e-publishing through an established e-publisher like Carina, Samhain, and others?

I share Kaitlyne's discomfort. I'm sure this post is supposed to reassure people, but it has the opposite effect on me.

Kate Douglas said...

From one who also learned to type on an old manual Underwood, I have to say I loved your post! I remember how thrilled I was when they came up with "white out" to correct errors, and no, I wouldn't trade my laptop for a typewriter. Not now, not ever!

However, unlike you I started my fiction writing career with a small epublisher in 1998. Very few people had even heard of ebooks then, but those of us who embraced the technology and the chance to publish our off-the-wall stories had no idea how ebooks would one day take off as they have. It's really been a wild ride, watching the industry change and evolve, but looking at the books piled around my office (since the shelves are full) the concept of storing a gazillion books in a fraction of the space certainly holds an appeal. Good luck to you, and what a great idea to publish a prequel to a current series! That's where BtP is an ideal venue for us.

Jenna Frey said...

I think what some fail to realize is that epublishers like BTP, et al, often serve as a great balance between NY publishing and self-publishing.

Most writers have material they've worked hard on but that big NYC publishers don't want or can't justify shelling out for. So, they let it sit. Because who wants to pay:

$800 to have it copy-edited (and that's a conservative estimate based on a really cheap $.01 per word)
$200 for a professional cover (not one with cheesy clip-art)
$?? for a professional to convert the material to something an ereader will accept, because you don't know HTML and can't do it yourself

Writers write because they love to write, not because they want to be bogged down with things that aren't their joy or their forte. It seems like BTP has the right idea. The author has to pay nothing up front, and the publisher doesn't make money until the author does. How is this not a win-win for epublishers and authors who want their older, shorter, not-commercial-enough, or otherwise rejected material out there (while still looking for opportunities in NY, if they like? Why not make a little cash instead of letting your novella sit under your bed because so-and-so-giant-publisher didn't want it or because you couldn't find an agent.

I think it is safe to say some of the nasty commentary comes from terrified and hysterical authors who haven't done enough research to soothe their fears.

Jenna Frey said...

I think what some fail to realize is that epublishers like BTP, et al, often serve as a great balance between NY publishing and self-publishing.

Most writers have material they've worked hard on but that big NYC publishers don't want or can't justify shelling out for. So, they let it sit. Because who wants to pay:

$800 to have it copy-edited (and that's a conservative estimate based on a really cheap $.01 per word)
$200 for a professional cover (not one with cheesy clip-art)
$?? for a professional to convert the material to something an ereader will accept, because you don't know HTML and can't do it yourself

Writers write because they love to write, not because they want to be bogged down with things that aren't their joy or their forte. It seems like BTP has the right idea. The author has to pay nothing up front, and the publisher doesn't make money until the author does. How is this not a win-win for epublishers and authors who want their older, shorter, not-commercial-enough, or otherwise rejected material out there (while still looking for opportunities in NY, if they like? Why not make a little cash instead of letting your novella sit under your bed because so-and-so-giant-publisher didn't want it or because you couldn't find an agent.

I think it is safe to say some of the nasty commentary comes from terrified and hysterical authors who haven't done enough research to soothe their fears.

Penny Wright said...

@Kaitlyne, I agree completely. I think "disingenuous" is a very kind way to put it.

@Margo Lerwill, I also completely agree with you. Let's not use this forum to be snide, you guys.

I think that this is a nice post, but that it is a bad idea to have it on this particular blog. I think it would have been lovely for the author to post this on her own blog, if she has one. If she does not, I think it would be an ideal service for her "self e-publisher" value added provider to get her set up with a blog, teach her how to use it, show her how to put links to her work on her sidebars (still haven't figured out that one myself, though I'm sure it's pretty easy...sometimes Captain Obvious skips my place).

I would probably also be fine with this blog then directing people to the author's blog. I would call that marketing, and leveraging an audience to promote your *author*. Not using your author to promote your service. That just smacks of ick.

Penny Wright said...

I do want to add that I have always been a fan of BookEnds, that they were one of the very first blogs I found when I discovered there was a whole writing community online, and that I hope, hope, hope for the best for them.

I think they are making some mis-steps right now, and that is probably a function of not understanding the e-pub market as well as they need to at this point. But I suspect they will figure it out...but it looks like it might be a somewhat painful learning process.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I hope epublishing doesn't mean the end of paper tomes. I love my eread, and I love my audiobooks. But my favorites, my friends, are still those "real" books.

Angie said...

Congratulations to Ms. Connolly.

There is a good thread on, entitled "It's Getting Tempting", where many writers talk about epublishing and selfpublishing. One well published person, whose name I will not mention, advocates epublishing and agrees that publishing in general is a group endeavor where each element is due their cut.

Because one must log on (for free) to read the posts it is not correct to quote.

Rita said...

The last year I’ve spent way too much time trying to understand all that goes on in this business. Bottom line, publishing is not a one size fits all business any more. I think it’s the responsibility of each author to have a good understanding of the changes, to know yourself and make the decision for your future accordingly. This is like anything else in life. What works for me isn’t going to work for someone else. I smile and wave from the beach so to speak as I watch brave authors launch careers onto a sea of exciting challenges. I think this new order has room for all of us no matter what publishing model we chose.
Wishing you many sales

Sheila Connolly said...

Whooo--too many individual issues to answer one at a time, but there are many good points made here.

I think our terminology is going to have to change. "Self-publishing" still carries a bit of a stigma from past experiences, where an author, either unwilling to take the admittedly difficult and frustrating route of querying, finding an agent, finding a publisher, etc., decides to go to a small press (or create one) and print out a few dozen copies, at his own expense, for friends and family. If all you want is a book with your name on the cover to hold in your hands and give as gifts, this is fine.

But an agent and an editor do more for you. Face it, there's a reason so many hopeful writers get rejected: they either can't write, or they need objective help to polish their work into a marketable form. I have my own stack of rejections (in the three figures, including a few from BookEnds), and I finished sixteen manuscripts before I ever sold anything. They were rejected for good reasons, but I learned along the way. I still rely on my current editor at Berkley Prime Crime to find the weak spots in my plot and pare away my digressions and repetitions before my manuscript goes to press. I'll stand up and say it: I know my work needs an editor.

Yes, I have a track record in book sales. Called Home is the first book that did not got through a print publisher, but direct to e-format. Those books of mine now available as e-books went through the whole process outlined above.

There are a lot of good writers out there who for whatever reason cannot find a niche in traditional publishing. Now they are lucky to have the opportunity to publish directly to an e-format, and manage the whole process themselves. I applaud them. My only reluctance was that I didn't have the time and attention to give the process to make it work. I still may go that route, once I dust off and revise some of those old manuscripts sitting on a shelf (or disk). Right now they're not ready for prime time, and I know it.

If you have questions for BookEnds or Beyond the Page, ask them (they overlap but are not one and the same). As I've said, there is certainly room for change as the evolving industry shakes out.

Chiseled in Rock said...

Sheila, right on! Considering Jessica's posting on the 25th, I'd say you're a visionary. With the fall of Borders, it's clear that the publishing landscape is about to change drastically. I like Jessica's progressive thinking (have always respected her prompt responses to queries)so much that I'm willing to sign up for the self publishing representation. (Query on the way to Bookends, heh, heh.)

Gusto Dave

BookEnds, LLC said...

Thank you everyone for your participation and questions of late. I want to let you know that we are working to address many of your questions and concerns about Beyond the Page on that site. You should see updates next week.

Please continue to participate. I only ask that whatever your feelings about agents, BookEnds, or the current subject that you treat Sheila with respect she is an author sharing her story.

Anonymous said...

I'm just feeling so bad about this whole thing (nothing related to your wonderful stories, Sheila) and feeling bad that I feel bad, b/c I've always read and enjoyed the BookEnds blog, and felt the company was reputable.

I no longer feel that way.

This is not 'self-publishing.' The company is called a 'publisher.' They reject manuscripts. The company takes a % of proceeds and distributes to the writer. That's NOT self-published.

Much, much, much more important is the conflict of interest here, which was mentioned frequently in the comments on the post the other day.

Don't you see how this post ITSELF is an example of how the conflict of interest begins to occur?

Is this the literary agency blog, or the publishing company blog? Who know, who cares, it's all the same, right?

But no, they're separate and different when it's important for them to be separate and different, right? At that point, the line is as clear as anything, right?

I see Chiseled In Rock's comment. Gusto Dave has queried BookEnds in the past seeking a literary agent, but now, having seen the e-publishing company news, *he's willing to sign up for the publishing arm instead.*

Instead of querying Jessica-The-Agent again, he's going to query the publishing arm.

(Which, by the way, Gusto Dave referred to as "self-publishing reprepsentation," which should serve to highlight the complete lack of clarity about what, exactly, is going on here. Is it representation, or publishing?)

Don't you see how bad this is?

This is very upsetting to someone who comes from a field where conflict of interest was central to our professional code of conduct. No matter what, as the professional, you could NEVER benefit in an ancillary way from your 'insider' knowledge of or access to a client's head/heart/pocketbook. There's a reason for those lines in the sand.

So, now the agent becomes publisher. Agent promotes her publishing company on agency blog. Agent takes her OWN CLIENTS and publishes their work.

How can you ever know what motivated the agent's behavior, even subconsciously? Who they accept and reject as clients, what they push to NY houses or don't, *how* they push or don't.

How can you ever know what was done--or not done--b/c, in the background, there was the agent's own non-royalty paying publishing company, waiting in the wings?

It's one thing to leave the agenting field to open an epublishing company. That's not what happened here.

'Conflict of interest' considerations are intended, in part, to remove even the appearance of impropriety.

This appears incredibly, disturbingly improper. And I'm shocked at the lack of professional concern about it.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this before, where an agent started an e-publishing company and everyone thought the world was coming to an end.

It didn't happen then and it won't happen now.

Anonymous said...

Of course the world isn't coming to an end. Ethical considerations aren't sexy, and they're not (usually) financially lucrative, but they're still important.

I know people scoff at things like this, esp when there's good money to be had by dismissing the concerns. Dismissing them doesn't make them less valid.

The world goes on when there's genocide and when millions of gallons of oil get spilled into the ocean. Of course the world will go on with this. But it won't necessarily be a better place.

Carrie Butler said...

Best wishes for your continued success, Sheila!

Anonymous said...

anon - 7:27
Your first paragraph.
I feel the same way.

Eve Johnston said...


I just wanted to say thank you for writing this blog entry and for providing detailed, gracious responses to further inquiries. I wish you all the best, and I have a great amount of respect for the step you're taking.

wry wryter said...

Sheila, I absolutely agree with Eve Johnson. You are a class act. Us dino's have to stick together.

Judy said...

What's happening in publishing isn't just a change, it's an upheaval, and until the dust settles a bit, no one really knows what the new world will look like. While I understand the "ethical" questions involved in an agent morphing into a publisher, there's also the hard fact that they're likely to see a large part of their business drying up. Should they just close their doors? What happens, then, to the clients who still need them, as agents? Why is it wrong to try to find a way to use the liftime of skills and knowledge of the industry they've made to benefit not only THOSE clients, but new ones? People like me. I can write, but I have neither the required technical skills to jump into e-publishing, nor the desire to learn them(at my advanced age.) I would ask skeptics like Anonymous to give everyone here credit for being bright enough to read the contract he/she is offered, and accept or decline it.


Judy said...

I don't understand why "Anonymous" can't give everyone here credit for being bright enough to read and evaluate a contract. If what's being offered by BTB isn't agreeable, the writer is always free to go elsewhere. I agree that there are some fairly sticky ethical issues involved in an agent morphing into a publisher, but I'm not sure what an agent is supposed to do, with the publishing industry in upheaval, and his/her client list in danger of shrinking. Should he/she simply close the doors, and throw in the towel, wasting a lifetime of skills and knowledge? Why isn't it better for everybody for the agent to continue helping the clients he/she has, while aslo using those skills to help other writers? People like me, for instance. I can WRITE a book, and have already published the "old fashioned" way, but even after ten years, I'm still a helpless babe in the woods with both computers and the internet. I need a broad range of professional help, and I've already wasted WAY too much time looking around for that help. I want to spend my days writing, not wading through stuff that I don't understand, and doing it badly. I'd rather trust that part to an indusrty professional,who has as much experience as I don't. Fifteen percent sounds like a reasonable price to pay for that kind of help. And if something seems fishy? Well, I'm a big girl, and perfectly capable of telling a scam or a ripoff when I see one, thanks.


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mary kennedy said...

Very nice post, Sheila. I'm a huge fan of your work. Congrats on your new venture.

Ceridwen Taliesin said...

Hi Sheila! I totally agree with you that Epublishing is going to grow. Actually I hope that internet will in the end be an effective way for artists to earn their keep, maybe in a fairer way than they ever did, and reaching not only a local public, but an international one. I know what you mean about typewriters. It must have been really hellish to type that thesis. And the noise the typewriters made! *shudders* Good luck with your works. :)

Todd Smith said...

I don't think I have ever actually seen a working typewriter. Can you still buy ribbon for those things? I kinda want to buy one just to have.

Jenn McKinlay said...

I love your story, Sheila!
I still remember the red portable
typewriter I found in the attic when I was five. It was love at first sight. I used to write newspapers based on the family and sell them to my mom for a quarter. Ha! Computers came along when I was in grade school, but I still love that red typewriter.

Amish Stories said...

I see a lot of folks using those electronic books to read not only that but from newspapers as well. I know about circulation going down big time at most newspapers because i worked at one. So now its the book publishing companies turn now. Richard