Tuesday, July 26, 2011

As the Book World Churns

We all said goodbye to Borders Book Stores this week and the book world is up in arms. Was it the bad economy? Was it the expansion of electronic readers and e-books? Or was it good old-fashioned bad business. The way people are swarming the stores looking for books at discounted prices, I think it was bad business, but that is my opinion.
Across the industry people are saying the e-book climate and self publishing is a gold mine. The gold rush is on my friends. I find it interesting. Back in 2007, when my hopes of expanding my career from sweet historicals into contemporary romantic suspense were shot by the super tight market, many of my colleagues were so against e-books that they would rather place a book they had written but not sold as a free read on their website than go with an e-publisher. E-publishers were bad. E-authors were hacks and woe to those who even thought about e-pubbing themselves. (Yes, Amazon had visited RWA nationals Pan retreat to talk about this new service they were providing where you could put up your own stuff once you were already on Amazon. They said it was a great way to feed fans more work and promote your current books.) Well, if it was a marketing ploy and you had a contract with one of the big six than it was okay to put up a story or two to promote them. But they still didn't count.
At the time I thought, instead of devaluing my work, I would publish with an e-publisher. So I queried The Wild Rose Press, who were very professional. I admit that the two years it took to get through editorial and production seemed silly at the time, but the resulting book was good. So I sent them a second. This was my way of keeping my fans reading while working on other books I hoped to sell to the big six. But let me tell you- that didn't fly among the "real" writers. Sigh. These were my "little" books. And truth be told even though I hit the WRP bestseller list five weeks in a row neither book made me much money. You see, I discovered that my readers prefer "real books."
Then came the e-book evangelists who swore that it was a gold mine and you could make millions by self-publishing. Others in the book world squawked that this was ridiculous...a sham.. a farce...not being a "real" writer. Then Amazon jumped their royalty rates to 70 % of books at least $2.99 in price. Suddenly unknowns were bringing in millions-buying houses with the cash they made from their self-pubbed books. Suddenly self-publishing backlists and stories that don't fit in the big six marketing were all the rage. Now many people who dismissed me and my "little" e-books are telling me it is legitimate for literary agencies to become publishers of their writer's works- the works that didn't sell to the big six. Really?
How interesting that everyone is doing a 360 turn around. So many people are talking about making monthly checks that pay mortgages that everyone is drawn to "trying it for themselves." Well, my friends, for me at least there is no gold mine in e-books. These are good books with solid excruciating edits, nice covers and really good reviews. I made a total of $150 on two books. Is it because I went with an e-publisher and am getting 30 percent royalty and not 70 percent after doing my own self edits, cover and publishing? Um, I don't think so. Is it because I don't do enough marketing? I'm here to tell you I spend three hours a day on marketing. The reality of my world is that my readers prefer real books. My sales on my e-books are coming from POD - not from electronic sales. The interesting news is that I'm not the only author finding this to be the case.
It's a brave new world. People who were nasty and fierce to tear down e-publishing are suddenly evangelists and talking about how they are making cash hand over fists. And yet~ the so called Kindle millionaires are making deals with the big six publishers for non-e-books. Even Amazon is trying to break into the "real" publishing world by offering advances and "real books."
In short- no one knows what the truth is... or what readers really want-even readers. I have never told anyone they aren't "real" (meaning legitimate authors.) Why? Because, my friends the book world pecking order has been destroyed. Even New York Times Bestseller doesn't mean what it meant twenty years ago in terms of prestige or income.
It's a brave new world. With new comes the potential for conflict of interest, scams, and spammers. All I can tell you is what I told you in 2007, do your research, know what you want out of your work and consider any mistakes as lesson learned. Trust yourself. Trust your readers and most of all take the time to write a good story. In the end, it is the stories that will make your career. As for me, I'm curious to see what happens next. In the meantime, I would love to know what you think about literary agencies becoming publishers, Amazon being an advance-paying publisher and the positive and negative effects the new world of publishing has had on how and what you read.


Linda Kage said...

Great advice! I can totally see why you're going the way you're going. You've already built up a reader base of people who prefer real, flip-actual-pages books. And your royalties from ebooks, yeesh, that sounds more like what I get every month.

It's so strange what can work for one person and not another. I don't think I'd do so well at self publishing. All the promotions and responsiblity resting solely on my shoulders? Scary. Plus, you have to pay so much for a cover artist and a freelance editor to proof it. And Formatting? I don't know the fist thing about formatting a book. I figure, why bother when an epublisher will do all that for free.

I'd love to sell to a publisher that doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts, you know, those agent-only people. But so far, I only get form-letter rejections from agents. Which leaves me stuck in epub world. But I like it here. So it's all good.

But as you said, research is definitely important. What a great post. Got me thinking (if you can't tell from my rambling). Thanks.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Linda,

Thanks for commenting. It is just so hit and miss with e-books right now. I know midlist print authors who are putting up back-list books (prepublished) and making good money while others-exactly the same level- are not making anything.
And wonderful authors like you are able to build your brand and your audience better than some print authors.
I agree- why spend two thousand dollars a book to self pub when an e-publisher will do it all for you for a percentage of sales- plus they market.
I'm on an e-pub loop and just listening to all the work they do makes my head hurt. Hmmm.

Helen Ginger said...

I'm not sure what's going to happen. I rather think we're seeing a seismic shift in the publishing continuum. Now, the ebooks are coming out on top. Who knows how things will shift in the future. Unless you're already a "name," it'll be hard to rise to the top of sales in the eWorld. There are just too many eAuthors publishing, putting up books, stories, semi-books, great books, and trash.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Ginger,

I agree- they say there are even people spamming the e-book industry by putting up stuff that they didn't write, taking pieces from other books and cobbling them together, etc.
It's a crazy world. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers~

Marilyn Brant said...

Nancy, I'm seeing this late, but I wanted to thank you for this post and for sharing your perspective of ebooks over time. Your experience and evenhanded way of looking at the industry is so valuable. We are in such a state of change...

For me, I'd worked as an RT reviewer for a number of years and used that great opportunity to really study those novels -- several were from small presses, many were from the big six -- and I learned early on not to necessarily judge the quality of a book by its publisher.

I've read some *fantastic* small press, independently pubbed and self-pubbed novels...as well as some dreadful ones, but the same thing is true of books print-published in NY. IMO, it's no more difficult now than it was 5 years ago to figure out what's a good book and what isn't -- esp. with tastes varying so much -- the only way to tell is by reading some of it ;).

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marilyn, *waves* congrats on your new books- both e and big six. I know you understand how crazy the biz is. I hope your ebooks are doing well.
I agree- everyone has different ideas of what a good book is- what we need to do is free the reader to make their own decisions. I think in the next few years this will happen.