Monday, July 22, 2013

E-books and Haystacks

As I have begun the second draft of my novel, I have also started doing some research on the publishing world.  When I started writing, I had a vision of a physical book in my hand, and on bookstore shelves, some day.  But that is a long road.  First I would have to find an agent, which is a huge task in and of itself, starting with a query letter in which I would have to sell the idea of the novel in a short summary. If someone actually found it interesting, I would send them the whole book.  If they found it potentially publishable, then I would have an agent, who would then try to sell the book to a publisher.  If that hurdle were cleared, I would get an advance.  A year or so later the book would come out.  Bookstore shelf space is limited.  A new book from a first time writer is unlikely to receive much of a marketing push from the publisher, and is not going to be kept on retailer shelves for long unless it actually sells.  The time frame for a new book to start selling is measured in weeks.  Poor sales means the book is returned to the publisher, and it then ends up sold cheaply as remainders or destroyed.  I have read that 40% of all books printed end up destroyed by publishers.  And if the book does sell well enough to remain in print, the first royalty check comes a year after publication.  That's two years after the advance.

In the e-publishing world though, things are different.  No agent is needed.  No publisher is needed.  Your book can be launched as soon as you get it in the condition you want.  You don't get an advance, but the book is available online as long as you leave it there, giving it far more time for word of mouth to get around and to build a following.  You can sell the book cheaper and get more in royalties per book than through traditional publishing.  And as e-books take off, outselling paper copies, you are entering a market on the upswing.  Oh, and it costs nothing, or nearly nothing, to do it.  And the royalty money comes in every two months or so instead of annually after a two year wait.  All of this is wonderful.  But of course this ease of access has a dark downside as well.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, can write and issue a book.  Anyone can be a published novelist.  And the simple truth is that it is hard to find a good self-published (or "indie published") book.  There are several e-books available to walk you through what you need to do, but all I have read have had a good number of typographical and grammatical errors.  So when the author advises you to get your book edited either by a professional or by several volunteers, it is obvious they haven't used their own advice.  And writing in most of the books on the bestseller list has been, to me, a bit underwhelming.  I'm not saying mine is better.  I'm just saying that I hope mine is better.  It is only going to get worse, I suspect.  Still, there are success stories in the indie publishing world, and good books to be found (Hugh Howie's Wool books for example), but it's like looking for needles in haystacks.

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