Not the Whole Enchilada

E-publishing, and specifically self-publishing e-books on Kindle, is a hot topic right now what with the interesting juxtaposition of Amanda Hocking’s Big 6 print contract and Barry Eisler’s ship-jump from print to Kindle only. In the meantime I’m also engaged in a contract negotiation and the issue of e-books is, of course, a major one. E-books have been an increasingly large issue since I first got into the business and while it may appear that I’m ignoring it, mostly I’m keeping my impetuous trap shut and observing and thinking a lot.

Over the past two years, I’ve been asked with some regularity when/if I will engage in electronic self-publishing (with varying degrees of “and get out from under the thumb of those evil money-grubbing publishers” implied or actually stated) or why I haven’t yet when I’m obviously doing so well for myself. But the truth is, I do not do it myself. And having once been an editor, I do not wish to because I have learned to my sorrow that I simply cannot see the trees for the forest.

Forest

When I complete a manuscript, even though I know parts of it are rough or rickety, I tend to look upon the finished draft as a beautiful woodland perfect (or mostly) and delightful. I cannot separate from the relief of completing the task enough to see all its flaws or–worse–how the flaws form a pattern or create other holes and problems; I simply don’t see the dead trees and rabbit burrows and trash heaps. I only see my beautiful forest of literary endeavor and think “Isn’t that lovely? That should be good enough to satisfy anyone.” And then I press “Send” on the e-mail and… a few weeks later my editor returns it saying it’s a lovely woods, but… this tree here is dead, and that hummock over there is, in fact, a trash tip, and the lake is much too shallow and… would I mind terribly cleaning this up just a touch before company comes to visit…? For this reason I would be a terrible candidate to “go it alone.”

Among other things, I’m extremely lazy and this just doesn’t look like fun:

Screw Press

Joking aside, one of the points that Ms. Hocking brings up–and which is for me a large one–is the need for editing and other editorial, design, marketing, promotion, and sales help. There is also the market penetration issue and the associated and often forgotten one of market breadth and reach. At the moment, people on the internet are deeply in love with their electronic realm and forget that, in fact, it is not the whole world. E-books are a very nice thing, but at the moment, no matter how impressive the growth rate, they represent less than 1/3 of all books–fiction, non-fiction, textbook, etc–sold in the US.

I personally do not wish to throw away 2/3 of my reader base or make the demand that they convert their reading habit from pulp to electronic. It is not my place to tell them they must pay for an e-reader or an application, that they must marry their book-buying to a particular vendor or format, especially since we are still engaged in the format wars which will, eventually, fall out with two or three formats being the victor–that’s the way systems like this tend to work. Right now we have 5 or six major file types vying for readers but that won’t be the case forever and I don’t want to be in the Sony/Betamax position of having chosen a standard I prefer only to see it fail and vanish. Nor, I think, should I ask that of readers. Appearances to the contrary, I am not, in fact, a multi-million volume seller, making $100,000 a year and up. I make the kind of money I used to make working as a contract editor at Microsoft, but without the benefits, and with considerably more expenses and higher taxes. I cannot afford to throw away 2/3 of my readers.

So, if I want to continue to reach those readers, I need to stay in physical print–in books made of paper, or plastic, or magic bean paste as it may be–so that they can find my books at their local supermarket or independent bookstore or chain or… wherever they get their books. That’s what I mean by “breadth and reach.” Because we spend so much time on the internet, I think we lose track of the number of people who don’t. According to Neilsen 74.9% of US homes with a phone line have internet access (note they don’t say anything about homes without phone line), but of those, less than half have broadband and of those, about 10% use their internet for e-mail and routine communication only, not for shopping or surfing the net–and certainly not for reading or buying books. So, that boils down to roughly 33.7% of US homes have the capacity for e-book downloads. Now, some of this will also be compensated by cell phones with reasonable data speeds and applications, but not a massive percentage. So, for now, e-books are not on the cutting edge of taking over the reading habits of Americans.

e-book readers

And I don’t believe they ever will. I think there will always be a place for the lowly cheap paperback, the impulse buy at the checkout counter, the shiny cover that catches your eye on the bookstore shelf. And from the work point of view, I’d much rather write than edit, design, typset, format, package, market, promote, and sell my books. Not only am I not as good at those as I am at writing, but I don’t enjoy them and they take time and effort I could spend on my writing and the rest of my life–which I would like to enjoy as much anyone else.

play

For me, self-publishing is not a business model I’m yet comfortable with. It may never be and until and if it is, self-publishing would mean spending a much greater amount of my time or money on the business end and less time on the writing end. And as I am not, at least yet, God–
God Is... Big
I don’t have all the time I’d like to do all the things I’d like–much less to do them perfectly. Until that day when the reach of the e-book matches that of the lowly paperback, I think I shall continue to watch and wait and spend my time writing.

Which would you rather do? Which would you rather I do?

***After I wrote this post, several people had additional questions which I tried to address in an additional post.

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About Kat Richardson

Writer, editor, eccentric pain in the tail, bestselling author of the Greywalker novels.
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24 Responses to Not the Whole Enchilada

  1. Jennifer Dusek says:

    More power to you. You have to make the right decision for you and you alone. I have a personal love of hardback/paperback books. Give me that textile feel of an actual book. At this point in my life; I don’t want an e-reader. Don’t care for them. That is not to say that I may eventually change my mind down the road.
    Love your books and brava!

  2. Rae says:

    As someone who spends a great deal of time on the net doing all sorts of things, I will never give up my love of turning a page to read an unfolding story. The excitement of what lies ahead can not be recreated on a kindle or an ipad. Thanks for sticking with the paper brigade Kat.

  3. Pam B says:

    Hi

    I have an e-reader but I also have a huge pile of books to read, I like both holding a book and the ease of the e-reader and will continue to purchase both. I am glad you have made your choice and that you want to spend your precious time writing and enjoying life. I love your books and as you spend your time writing I will spend my time reading them.

    Thanks!!!

  4. I have a ridiculous love of physical books, even though I keep very few due to my living arrangements. But that’s not my only reason for thinking we may all be overreacting to the e-book market/threat/option. I just don’t think it’s ever going to be 100% of the market and that assuming we can all be Amanda Hocking on the one hand or Joe Konrath on the other is just… silly. I think most of us will be like me: in the middle, putting out books for two radically different formats.

  5. Sharon S. says:

    oh, that is an easy question to answer…I want you to do what works best for you, cause it is your work, enough said . I have a kindle (my precssssious) and I probably buy more ebooks than paper, but I still buy paper and even hardbacks. I like to have the first book in my favorite series so I can lend them to friends and get them hooked too.

  6. Tom Hopp says:

    Kat, thanks for weighing in on this compelling issue of our times. Like you, I ply both the ebook and pbook trades. I gotta say, though, the royalties I make on ebooks are like the feller said, “one bedoozie of a lot bigger.” I’m content for now to let my original Dinosaur Wars novels go out exclusively as pbooks, but for my new short story series, Dinosaur Tales, I like getting 52 cents on the dollar for my royalty rate. Oops. Shame on me for discussing the profit motive.

  7. Tom: I have no problem with the idea of bigger percentages and I think in future when e-book is a bigger part of the market, authors will probably be universally getting bigger pieces of that pie. But as I said, right now I am willing to trade bigger profits for a more stable editorial structure and more professional help with marketing, placement and sales.

    For now.

    I expect to change my position when the market stabilizes, but at the moment, it’s not stable enough for my taste and I’m doing well enough with a publisher who (generally) treats me well.

  8. Aaaaaaaaaarrrrghhhhhhhhhh! With the advent and popularity of electronic publishing, we, as consumers, lose the gatekeepers. That means, as a purchaser, I will be subject to a zillion kinds of electronic gak by writers who are convinced they’ve published the next great American novel (and don’t have a great editor to disabuse them of that grandeous delusion). No. thank. you. Working as a writer and an editor (nonfiction) I have faith in editors and publishers separating the gak from Tom Clancy and Stephen King (for example, as multi-million-dollar writers) with insight in what the market will bear. I also shudder at the number of unedited manuscripts that will be circulated (having run into writers who believe they are so good they don’t need editing — when they definitely do! It takes a good editor to help a GREAT writer; it takes a GREAT editor to help merely a good writer … and most of us are not Hemingway. And to add to the common thread, there is nothing like a book in may hands for the satisfying kiniesthetic sensation I associate with reading. (And gods help me if I want to peruse a Kindle publication as I take a nice, relaxing, hot bath … one of my favorite reading, down time places …

    Nope, there are a lot or reasons out there why direct writing to print (of whatever form) is a very bad idea … and not just among the laments of true bibliophiles (like me). And Kat does hit on a major one in her blog … thinking her novel is perfect, until it gets to the scrutiny of a good editor … who invariably makes it better.

    Dianna

  9. Elsa DieLowin says:

    Considering that reading is the thing besides housework and going somewhere else that I can do when the power is out at my house, I prefer my books to be on paper.

  10. Carolyn says:

    I am excited, actually, to hear that you are definitely for keeping with the “real” books. There’s nothing like opening up a book, whether it is new from the printers or just new to me, and smelling that wonderful smell and the excitement of feeling the pages between my fingers! I have e-book capabilities, and while they are nice for when I’m in a tough spot, they are not my preference. I can imagine they are plenty of people who feel the same.

    I must agree with Dianna and you, Kat. Editors are a must. I have read too many self-published e-books that have even just some pretty bad grammatical errors and missing words, that completely distract me from the story because I’m trying to find out what that sentence was supposed to mean.

    Thanks for keeping it real 😉

  11. Susan says:

    You must do what is right for you..I just think that Amanda Hocking was very brave and believed…Let’s embrace her..I only have my blkberry and My Physical Books..Would never read a Book on my Computer..Surrounded by Nooks in my Family…But The Blkberry Playbook seems interesting….I Will Always Love the Smell the intimacy of my books…But your readers have a choice..You can only gain Readers with ebooks….Support Self Published Authors…..

  12. Barb Hendee says:

    You know I’m with you here, Miss Kat. I love our publisher.

  13. I do not know Amanda Hocking and until recently I’d never heard of her or her books, but I will say–and without any blushing or pretending–I’m in awe. Not only of her success but of her bravery, her hard work, and her gracious candor. She is a model for any writer and I have a great deal of respect for her.

  14. Deb Wormsbacher says:

    For some people, myself included, part of the enjoyment of reading is the physical act of holding a book and turning pages. Unless you are one of those people, it may not make sense to keeping making “real” books when ebooks are easily acquired and are easier to store. It also is such a new area that a wait and see attitude only seems prudent.

  15. Elaine says:

    As long as the local used bookstore keeps on giving me credit to spend in their store I will go on buying paperbacks. As long as I have friends to whom I can lend a book I will continue to own books printed on paper. I have a books on my iPhone and am glad to keep them that way. I’m really glad authors keep on publishing so I can keep on reading. However they choose to do it.

  16. Bill Swears says:

    Personally, I’d love to have the option to self publish or stick with my paperback publisher. But, here I am, just in print with Zookland in Germany, several really nice comments from various publishers and agents, but no agent, and no U.S. publisher. I’ve burned up the wires and chopped down a forest submitting, but the only people who get excited about my books are first readers.

    I’m beginning to seriously consider self publishing. If I do it, it probably won’t be a Kindle only release.

    Bill

  17. Bill: Yeah, if you do go the self-published electronic route, I think you’d be wise to put it out in as many formats as possible, rather than locking yourself into just one stream. But do read the contracts very carefully and set your price-points with consideration for the contract clauses that allow Amazon (and probably others) to reset your prices if there is a lower one available for the same format.

  18. MizBehavin1 says:

    Like so many people affected by unemployment and the recession, I’m not financially in the position at the moment to purchase books to support my reading habit of 100-150 books annually, so I loan from my local public libraries most of the time and splurge occasionally on a hardcover/paperback when I cannot get the book at the library or to satisfy my desire to own personalized copies from my favorite authors. My brother and sister, also avid readers, also loan me novels they’ve finished and vice versa. I like the process of browsing in bookstores and libraries and I like the feel and smell of reading printed books, but I recognize the convenience of using an e-reader — especially for travel. So while I cannot afford to own an e-reader at this time, I do hope to do so in the future for those books I cannot find at the library.

    I see advantages to owning both, but I think it’s ridiculous that authors would not see the advantage of publishing in both paper *and* e-book formats until, as you say, the dust settles and one or two e-formats reign supreme. I’m sure having to accommodate multiple e-formats is a pain from the author/publisher standpoint, but until such time as every person (or a least a significant majority) can afford to own an e-reader, there will be a market for printed books. The only casualty for fiction that I can presume to foresee, is that as e-readers become more popular, the hardcover book will eventually give way to paperback only publishing in order to compete with e-reader pricing. I hope that by then authors will be getting a bigger cut to balance that fact.

    I wonder if authors will be signing e-readers in lieu of physical copies. I hope not, because I treasure the opportunity to meet my favorite authors and treasure my signed books. 🙂

  19. I’ve signed e-readers. Either on the backs or on the removable covers.

    The word in the bookseller’s end is that mass market paperbacks don’t sell as well as they used to and the slack is being taken on the low end by e-books and on the “quality” end by the larger trade paperbacks. But there’s still no replacement for the cheap paperbacks in grocery stores and what are known in the trade as “racks”–those shelves and wire spinning things hang out at check-outs and aisle-ends in drug and grocery stores. Those are the segment I find myself thinking about a lot more than I used to–or apparently than anyone else does. What will we put there when/if there are no more cheap paperbacks?

  20. Colette Duke says:

    I have two of e-readers and buy/read mostly e-books, but I still love the feel of a paperback in my hands. E-publishing and print publishing each have their pros and cons, each have their place. I believe both are here to stay.

  21. Sharon Langlois says:

    For me, an actual pulp-y, paper cut-y, dusty mildew-y smelling used paperback book can never be replaced. The tactile feel, the dare-I-say-it bent over page corner, the brief glance of a near-the-end page just for the main character’s name (sorry Harper), just can’t be equaled by the e-reader. And then there is the thrill of the hunt – in used bookstores comparing cover art, and the very, very old pics of the authors, old inscriptions in gifted books and so on. That being said, I’m also an art historian – and those textbooks are huge! And heavy! When an e-reader that has great resolution color pictures shows up, I may be tempted. But know this, it will NEVER be my primary method of accessing books for pleasure. And a book, when thrown, makes a much better weapon than an e-reader. You never know…

  22. Miss Bliss says:

    I think you really hit on the most important issue in self-publishing at the moment. The publishers provide a huge machine that does all the work that is Not Writing and they generally do it very, very well. Editing is beyond important for any writer at any stage in their career. This is industry is in flux, change is often confusing and worrisome. But it’s also where great expansion happens. I wish it felt a bit more like the publishing industry was working towards what is an inevitable new business model. I firmly believe that editors and publishers belong in the e-book business. I also think that writers have the potential to have greater control over their back catalogue and out of print works in ways that were never before possible. The potential for the out of print market sort of blows my mind. Mostly because I love a lot of old Science Fiction and Fantasy books that are impossible to find these days. I’d love to be able to pay someone to get those books… preferably the writer. All these ideas affect the way copyright is going to change and the way contracts are being written. All that to say I think being cautious right now is wise for the writer with a contract in place and good team working with her. But keeping a clear weather eye on the business also makes sense right now…because change is happening and I have to believe that MORE ways to get good books will never be a bad idea.

  23. Jesse C. says:

    My own $0.02 worth of speculation as a reader who has been mulling the subject over for a couple of years: I think the days of paper publication are numbered – but the number is nowhere near as small as some people seem to believe. My best guess is in the 10 to 15 year range.

    I also believe that the days of the current business model for publishers are in that same range – but I don’t see the function going away. What I see taking its place is an increase in the services performed by literary agents. As you have pointed out, the biggest services of the publishing houses to the author are editing, distribution, and advertisement. What I expect to see is that the agents will provide those services at a charge – either fixed or a percentage of the haul – to the author.

    I also expect to see is a proliferation of e-publications dedicated to literary genera reviews (think an e-version of Locus). This is the only reasonable way I can see around the logjam of authors that will result from unfiltered access to the market. Frankly, having sampled some of the self published material, it’s already looking like Sturgeon’s Law on steroids out there. Again, getting the author access to these publications will be under the preview of agents working for the authors.

  24. Cat G. says:

    Keeping in mind that I am not (yet) a writer, nor am I a lawyer, and deeply respecting the former while neutral on the latter…
    I can’t see a time when the famed dead, pulped tree format will ever completely go away. Aside from the good points you raise, there are a multitude of sea-changes that follow e-publishing tied in to the basic concept of consumer ownership. When I purchase a paperback, I never have to worry about some change in legalities resulting in my ability to read that paperback being terminated due to a small clause. I own a physical, wonderful, tactile experience rather than a more slippery “license” to read a set of words. My ability to expose others to this fabulous experience through lending or giving is in no way hampered – if I want to become a paper crack dealer for my favorite authors, that’s okay. (The first hit is always free… you can get more at the bookstore.) I don’t have to worry about buying the same book two or three times unless really wonderful new editions come out. (If I were to buy all the paper books I own for a Kindle or Nook or what-have-you, it would be… prohibitively expensive.) I don’t ever have to worry about a company failing, and my library becoming inaccessible or my books becoming “unsupported”. A paper book doesn’t cause eyestrain on the same level as my computer monitor. (I like eInk’s displays. I think the Nook went a step backwards to make it a backlit LCD.)
    Now, I do have some eBook type things… mostly classics from Project Gutenberg, or companion technical publications. But I also have enough books that shelf space is a serious consideration in any possible dwelling. (Random mad props to you, Kat, for living on a sailboat. I couldn’t do it without a bigger boat just to carry my books.)
    Self publishing could make it “easier” for aspiring authors to get into publication, but it also could make it harder for people to discover good authors.

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