I get inspired by other people’s blogs. Stephanie Laurens wrote a blog on Dinosaurs and Daffodils, basically asking if this new world of self-publishing was scary or exciting. I wrote a comment to add to her blog, but the blog gods ate it and of course I didn’t think to make a copy, so instead of challenging the gods again I figured I would just put my thoughts here, changing the analogy slightly from Dinosaurs (which I am, having been in the writing business for nearly 30 years) and daffodils (those brave new souls venturing into the world of self-publishing, for which I also qualify, having self-pubbed my four early, Out Of Print books)…to ostriches and butterflies. Writers do that, you know. We love analogies.
The ostriches in this case, are the Big Six publishing houses, the bookstores, and the authors who are standing back shaking their heads saying nope, not me. Not going to sell my priceless words as ebooks, not going to list them at $2.99, not when I’ve been a Bestseller, when I’ve made it onto Lists, when I’ve been published in hardcover and been on book tours etc etc etc….
Hmm. I’ve been a Bestseller. I’ve made it onto Lists. I turned down a hardcover deal years ago, and I’ve been on book tours etc etc. And I will admit I turned my nose up at ebooks when they first came out about 10 years ago, maybe more, because the readers were big and clunky, reading material was limited, and face it, I was a big reader myself and had (have) shelves full of lovely books that I could take into my hands, turn the pages, and lose myself for a few hours with some great stories.
I also went on a long hiatus, having grown over-stressed with all the bulls**t involved with deadlines, editors, being told my books weren’t commercial enough…yada yada, I’ve blogged about all that before so I won’t repeat it here. Bottom line, I stopped having fun so I set pen and paper aside and watched my grandchildren growing up…something that only happens once.
More recently, a divorce after 37 years of marriage set me back on my hiney, right about the time I was considering picking up pen and paper again. It’s hard to write a romance novel when your life is falling down around your ears, so that made the pen and paper get pushed aside again. I didn’t think readers would appreciate me stabbing the hero every other page or every time he said: I will love you forever.
Then last year I had an interesting email from Julie Ortolon, and again I have blogged about this before, but it bears repeating for the butterfly analogy. She said she had been discussing self publishing her backlist books with several other authors who were interested in doing the same thing. She wondered what, if anything, was happening to my early OOP books, to which of course I answered: nothing. She and a few others started an email group and a website to see who else was roving around wondering what to do in this brave new world of ebooks, and BacklistEbooks was formed. It started with about 20 members, and we’re now over a hundred with three loops. A lot of the names I recognize. Some are dinosaurs like me, (pausing to wave and chuckle at Shirl Henke) having been in the business, in print for the past three decades.
We’re all slowly emerging from the cocoon and becoming butterflies…testing this ebook revolution by first reissuing our backlist books. Some are having remarkable success and everyone is starting to question the logic of publishers who are making very little attempt to keep their authors from breaking out of more and more cocoons. Self pubbed authors have complete control over their covers, something only a lucky few of us had many many years ago. They also have complete freedom to write whatever stories they want to write whether some 20 year old editor fresh out of college thinks its commercial or not. It’s called diversity, all you publishers out there. Not everyone wants to read vampire books, or chick lit, or zombies just because that happens to be the trend at the moment. Regencies have been run into the ground with overkill, as have books about Scotland and Highlanders. Everyone in the 70’s wrote books based on the Civil War until it turned to dust and killed off more reader interest than the armies of the North and South combined.
Can you SEE me writing a book about vampires? That’s what was suggested to me in place of the sequel to The Iron Rose because, I was told, pirate books were no longer commercial.
The other big ostrich in this blog is Borders. Hello? Ebooks anyone? Amazon has come out with the Kindle, Barnes and Noble has the Nook. There is the Sony reader and, giving ebooks a huge push, the iPad. Even Costco has it’s own reader now, the PanDigital, a quarter of the price of the iPad with almost as many features. A big book chain like Borders should have seen the writing on the wall. An average e-reader holds a thousand books and slips into a purse or pocket. Ever tried shlepping a thousand books around in your purse? Or even your car? Students, prime example. No more slogging 50lbs of textbooks in a backpack, just take out the e-reader. Lawyers…need to find a case quickly? Check your e-reader right there in court and voila….
And if all that isn’t convincing enough to bring some heads out of the sand…try the basic bottom line. A midlist author who sells 50,000 books is considered a bestseller. The royalty rate on each book sold is 8% usually, but we’ll round it up to 10% because my math sucks. At 10%, the author earns .89 on a book that sells for $8.99. For 50,000 books then, she earns $44,500. Authors moan and whine over the low price point of ebooks, saying their books are worth way much more. Okay. Do the math. The average price point for an e-book is $2.99, which, at the 70% royalty rate offered by Amazon and Smashwords, works out to $2.03. So, for those same 50,000 books the author would earn $101,500. Of course, there are no cushy large advances, which are nice to get. On the other hand, there is no waiting for that advance to earn out, no stalling on the part of the publisher who still uses archaic excuses like reserves against returns to hold back payments. I’ve often wondered, if you told the president of a publishing house that he was only going to be paid twice a year, that the amount would be unknown and at the discretion of some clever accountants…how many would take the job?
Amazon sends a cheque at the end of every month, Smashwords pays quarterly. No reserves against returns, just wysiwyg (what you sell is what you get). In this day and age of computers, bookstores and publishers know to the SECOND how many copies of a book is sold…hell, ten years ago an editor’s assistant mistakenly sent me the URL of one of their distribution centers and even then, they knew exactly how many books had been shipped, how many were in the warehouse, and exactly how many had been sold and in which stores. The joy of computers. I was asked, by that same panicked assistant to just forget I ever saw that website, but of course…hard to forget when you get a royalty statement where the numbers were so skewed it looked like I owed them money.
There are already resources for cover graphics if the author feels he or she cannot do the artwork themselves. There are editing services cropping up every other day because yes, a good book still needs to be edited. There are people who format for ebooks, people who scan and convert print books to ebooks, and more sites cropping up every day to promote and review ebooks. There are a lot of butterflies out there. The ostriches better get their heads out of the sand or they’ll just be stuck there with their…erm…feathers in the air.
I’d love to get some feedback on this. Hopefully the blog gods won’t eat any more posts.