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).
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