Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ebooks and the slog of publishing

Well, I got my Kindle for Christmas. I've read so much about Kindles, but it was still a shock to be able to press the One-Click button on Amazon and be told that the book I wanted would appear in a moment on my Kindle, and in the next instant look down and find it there, and with another flick of a button begin reading - and all for less than two quid! Maybe I'll get used to it, but at present this does seem to make books kind of magical. Although I am getting used to it: there's another book I want, King Crow by Michael Stewart, and actually, I sent off for it in early December and it never arrived, so rather than bother chasing it up I'll just download it on Kindle, shall I? Oh hey, no, it's not on Kindle.* I've got to bother chasing it up after all, or pay the print price all over again plus postage and packing and wait a day or two, when really I want to look at it NOW! And there are other books on Kindle: I can imagine a scenario where I just don't bother and get one of those instead (though I didn't do that). And since my own books aren't yet on Kindle (they will be eventually, I'm told) I'm jealous of all those authors whose books already are - readers being able to get hold of them so quickly, so easily. People interested in my books have asked me if they're on Kindle and I have answered with equanimity (and, for a considerable time, little interest) that they aren't, imagining those readers happily ordering the print copies instead. Now, though, I'm imagining them instantly losing interest... Surely being on Kindle must make a difference to sales... Surely, as a small-publisher at a book fair said to me recently, even though the price of ebooks has been forced so low by Amazon, you can still turn a profit, as ebook sales can be phenomenal?

But apparently it's not so simple. Which books do I download? Why, those I know about beforehand, of course: you can't exactly browse for books on Amazon. So those books that will sell well via Amazon, either in print or electronic form, are those which have had good marketing. And since Kindle books are priced so low, you need to sell a lot to make any substantial profit - which must mean that ebooks need particularly aggressive marketing.

And marketing a book is really hard and time-consuming work. I've heard so many non-writers advising authors having difficulty getting published to do it themselves with ebooks. Of course, they're thinking of Amanda Hocking, who has become a millionaire through her self-published young adult vampire ebooks, but it's interesting to learn in a recent Guardian article that she 'became so burned out by the stress of solo publishing' that she has now turned to a traditional publisher, and to hear what she herself has to say on the matter. I read elsewhere that she wants to be a writer again, the implication being that being a sole publisher left her no time to write, and The Guardian reports:
She also resents how her abrupt success has been interpreted as a sign that digital self-publishing is a new way to get rich quick. Sure, Hocking has got rich, quickly. But what about the nine years before she began posting her books when she wrote 17 novels and had every one rejected? And what about the hours and hours that she's spent since April 2010 dealing with technical glitches on Kindle, creating her own book covers, editing her own copy, writing a blog, going on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, responding to emails and tweets from her army of readers? Just the editing process alone has been a source of deep frustration, because although she has employed own freelance editors and invited her readers to alert her to spelling and grammatical errors, she thinks her ebooks are riddled with mistakes. "It drove me nuts, because I tried really hard to get things right and I just couldn't. It's exhausting, and hard to do. And it starts to wear on you emotionally. I know that sounds weird and whiny, but it's true."

* Edited in: In the few days since I wrote this post, Michael Stewart's Not-the-Booker-winning King Crow has become available on Kindle. I've also read it since, and recommend it - vivid and moving (and very cleverly written).

16 comments:

Mike Bell said...

The truth about ebook-self-publishing is that not only do you do the toughest job of writing the damn thing, you do the toughest-toughest job of turning it into a book - it is so much more than a 'click'..

Elizabeth Baines said...

Exactly!

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

A very interesting post and I'll respond full later but just to reassure you that Kevin, Michael's publisher, will be coming on Monday and will have plety of copies of King Crow with him. I have a feeling it may have temporarily sodl out last year owing to its not the Booker success.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Very glad to hear it sold out!!

Anonymous said...

Very good article. I recently got a Kindle too and experienced that magic of having a book appear. In terms of making our books available so that they can be downloaded on a whim, the ebook seems marvellous. As one who has been (is still?) considering self-publishing as an option for my alter ego's space comedy book I'm acutely aware that it will take huge time and effort for the formatting and marketing and that there really is no money for nothing. If all that gets in the way of the writing in the first place, there's not much point.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Alison, I do wonder if it's worth an author taking a year or so out from writing to market a book. I guess it's just a question of weighing up the pros and cons... What concerns me is the general assumption out there that it would not be necessary to do this, or indeed to take more than a year to keep up the life of a book...

Hayley N. Jones said...

I think I'd better not get a Kindle anytime soon... Apart from the publishing debate, I can see myself spending even more on books than I do now! 'Go on, it's just a oouple of quid... oops, so that's one. And that one...'

Sue Guiney said...

I, too, have found myself seduced by the instant gratification of ebooks. But that's for the readers who have no need to worry about the behind-the-scenes activities, not for the writers. producing ebooks is very hard, especially with poetry, very time-consuming. The chances of selling thousands are still very small unless there is a big hype around the book. And if there's a big hype, you're more likely to sells lots of physical books as well. we should never believe these get rich quick stories. there's no such thing as a magic bullet.

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Dan Holloway said...

I know Luke at Tindal Street is evangelical about ebooks for small publishers (in fact, I have their runaway success Bone & Cain to thank for the majority of sales my thriller had on Kindle - I happened to be on the also bought page one just at th etime the book went from nowhere to #1 in the bestsellers and got pulled up to the top 50). Myriad editions have done marvels too - most notably with Elizabeth Haynes' Into a Dark Corner but not just with that. I think the real thing is that a small press doesn't have to gamble on a print run. I remember talking to a book rep about The Cuckoo Boy, published by a small press with a small initial run. It then did very well in Not the Booker and there was a lot of demand from stores they couldn't fulfil until demand had waned. On the other hand, small presses just can't do 20,000 runs of all their new books - what ebooks let you do is ride a wave when there is one and not take a hit when there isn't - much safer for a small press to have a smaller print run, if the book is a critical hit, let it take off as an ebook, and then bring out a 2nd edition having built further momentum rather than lost momentum

Elizabeth Baines said...

That's an important point, Dan.

Anonymous said...

I think the point about how exhausting marketing your own work can be - and how this effort can impact on your writing - is a valid one. But if you're trying to get a book out there, you can at least have a little bit of fun playing with the expectations of the editors and readers of the innumerable magazines and blogs that couldn't exist without your input as an author. I've also co-hosted a literary festival, done signings at shops, guested at book groups etc etc.

By contrast, if you're trying to 'drive the sales' of an Ebook, your options are very limited. The number of publications that cover Ebooks (or promote the E-editions of hard copy books) is tiny. the most obvious outlets are Kindle-specific forums on Facebook or Amazon. Yet you've only got to spend five minutes in one of these places to realise that if your book isn't crime, a thriller, romance, horror or YA - if it belongs to the 'genre' that may be described as 'literary fiction' - then no-one wants to know...

Elizabeth Baines said...

An interesting point, Charles. I take your point about the genre bias of ebook popularity. According to the Guardian article, though, Amanda's Hocking's main routes for the promotion of her books were Facebook, Twitter and blogging, which is the main way that people promote literary novels too. As she says, though, it's really hard work and takes time and creativity away from the writing. There's also the big problem of being resistant to too much self-promotion on Facebook and Twitter.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Sorry, that should have read 'people being resistant'

Anonymous said...

hmm. a Freudian slip perhaps...

there is, of course, another way:

http://www.writershub.co.uk/blog-piece.php?pc=1305

(sorry if it's a bit off posting this here. but i thought it was almost relevant...)

Elizabeth Baines said...

Funny and heartbreaking, Charlie. Not irrlevant at all...