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Writing 101 -- Flavors Of Damnation

I think it's fairly safe to say that e-books are here to say.  Seven years ago, when I was debating whether or not to let a somewhat uncertain-looking outfit named Chippewa Press be the literary brow through which Zeus-like I would take the world by storm with a book called Salvation, this was by no means a certain thing.  At that time, e-books were a fringe and rather shaky proposition.  I eventually decided not to go with them, and my prescience was rewarded in the form of them going out of business about a year later.  Had I signed on to get into the publishing world with them, I would still probably be tied up in one form of court or another trying to get my rights back, not an inconsiderable concern when you've written five more books in the series.

Now, entering 2014, the Kindle device in all its various incarnations is a huge seller.  I wager you know at least three people will some version of an e-reader.  The lower cost associated with e-books, along with the ease of acquiring them and the relative anonymity of the titles contained (nobody knows if you're reading 50 Shades Of Grey or War And Peace, after all) makes the e-reader format highly attractive.  Add in the vast amount of mostly free apps available for the various tablets and smartphones, and it would seem like the e-market would be going great guns and that publishers would be much more willing to give people a shot.

This has not been the case at all.

To be sure, there have been a great many sales on the electronic side of the book business and from that method, it has been a good success.  In a world where the new console game system, 3-D blockbuster movies and the latest cable series sensation are all clamoring for your entertainment dollar, the e-book has carved a great niche out for itself.  What separates the e-book from these other entertainment platforms is the relatively low cost associated with its production.  When the various pre-production costs are all added together (cover artist, copy editor, chief editor and formatter who creates a readable book out of a Microsoft Word document), the cost is actually quite low.

Much lower, it should be hastily pointed out, than the traditional print book.  In that business model, there were all these costs, and then you could go ahead and add in the cost of printing anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 copies of the book in traditional book format, the cost associated with shipping them to various booksellers across the United States (and around the world), and then whatever the costs were in getting the local brick-and-mortar stores to stock them on the shelves.  Of course, there was also then the added wariness of not selling enough copies of a book, having large amounts returned to the publisher...

...why, the e-book was the perfect test monkey to be shot into space!  With such low costs associated with production in the first place, if an e-book failed to sell more than a few hundred copies then it was no great loss.  Unsold books?  No such thing.  There was only sales, or limbo.  The costs of shipping were now dependent on bandwidth costs for download, which meant a great many more test balloons could be sent up for the same price as a few traditional print book.  By this very Vulcan logic, this should mean that getting an e-book published would be much easier than a traditional print book.  Much less risk = more risks could be taken.  Plus, the profit margin for sales is much, much higher.

However, there is no industry that is more backward and hidebound than that of publishing, and this has not bee the case. It is just as difficult now to get a print book accepted as it is an e-book, in complete defiance of the financial model I have laid out.  The reason why is quite simple; the same gatekeepers who have served in the industry for so long are also making their presence and habits felt in the e-publishing world to boot.  They have not changed their perceptions one iota in the face of changing technology.  The fact that the electronic market has been flooded with awful self-published books via Amazon has also not really helped the cause as well.

What does this all mean?  Don't lower your standards, people, because they're damn sure not lowering theirs.


Jan. 24th, 2014 11:58 pm (UTC)
My dad recently INSISTED on buying me a Kindle so that we could more easily share books across space and distance. I still prefer the look and feel of paper, and borrowing books from the library. However dad and I don't get to bond much, so I consented.

What startled me was that the price of e-books is still exactly the same as a real book, regardless of the lack of shipping, storage, printing, binding, resource-intensive costs associated with a real book! WTF man! I know it's set by the publishers, but it's like the publishers are still a bunch of old fuddy-duddies who don't understand the system - or they understand people will still pay $8 for a book you can probably easily pirate elsewhere.

Anyway it's tough to slough through all the terrible CRAP that's actually being published, I'm not surprised self-publication has had an equally terrible slough.

Maybe you can get a little creative. Try some video blogging - reading sections of your book. Get a little youtube following. Tweet sections of your book. Outreach has to evolve with the times, too.