Thursday, January 29, 2009

Things You Should Know About E-Publishing

So I thought a great topic for today's blog post would be something that authors and readers would find interest in. I decided to identify interesting concepts embodied in the electronic publishing world, and pick five items of interest to authors, and five items of interest to readers. I thought it might give a little bit of insight as to how things work (and maybe encourage y'all to think a little bit of how they could work. Better.

Five Things An Author Should Know About E-Publishing
1. It works pretty much like print publishing. Author submits to a publisher, publisher rejects or accepts, manuscript goes through an editing process, is given a cover, and is released for sale. Royalties ensue. Money flows to the author. At the fundamental level, this is true.

2. It works nothing like print publishing. E-press markets are smaller, lighter, faster, and skinny around the middle. While print publishers rely on outsourcers to manufacture the physical product and then distribute it to sales points, e-presses do the manufacturing, so to speak, in-house, and more commonly operate a point of sale to the general public, in addition to taking advantage of other distribution channels.

3. E-publishing appeals to a different market than print/traditional publishing. While there exists a large overlap in the two markets, patrons of e-publishers are not a subset of print publishing patrons. For an author, this means you have two different audiences between the two. The large overlap is there, but some of your work that suits the one will not necessarily suit the other. Do not be afraid to exploit this creatively. Future generations will thank you for it.

4. Money flows to the author in all cases, but not in the same riverbed. Advances sprung out of the system of returns and credits used to keep bookstores in business through the depression. They can serve to tide an author over in the time between acceptance of the work and publication/availability to paying customers. The lag time is significantly reduced in a digital world, and publishers operating in that world operate their businesses accordingly. Also, in a digital world, no physical goods are exchanged, ergo nothing physical need be returned. While there's a question as to the purpose of an advance (whether it is a portion of the pay meant to tide an author over until the book begins sales, or a monetary expression of the publisher's expectations of the bulk of the book's expected earnings), the idea of reserves against returns has no place in an e-publishing world. Without the advance, reserves, and returns, most reputable e-publishers have established higher royalty rates in exchange for choosing a non-established way of doing business.

5. E-publishing is still an emerging market, and the rules are fluid. The jury is still out on the best way to get a book from an author's mind out to the masses via the internet. Everything from distribution to pricing to delivery to access to format is still essentially up for grabs to the method that will find the best combination of cheap, easy, plentiful, and appealing. Meaning don't be surprised if things change on you. Hold on to your hat and try to look in the right direction so you can see what's coming.

Five Things Readers Should Know About E-Publishing

1. It's not the same as traditional publishing. As readers, you've spoken through your wallets and shown that by and large, if you can find a book on the bookshelf at the bookstore or in the library, you're not as likely to look for the same fare online, unless it's got the origins you expect. So if you've always wanted to read something that New York just won't touch, chances are that the internet has its hands all over it. Go forth and explore and you may just be pleasantly surprised. Small niches and specializations can be met by e-publishers that are overlooked or ignored by the big boys due to the economies of scale. Which leads to the next item on the list

2. The economies of scale do not apply the same way online as they do in the bookstore. The shelves of the internet are endless. This means you can find just about anything, but it also means you can get very easily lost. This means a return to a book's best sales tool--word of mouth--and the savvy reader will rediscover the somewhat lost art of trusting in a like-minded fellow reader's recommends through blogs and forums and lists and loops.

3. You are being watched. No, not really in any creepy scary stalkerish way. But if you are reading ebooks, your habits and your opinions are being paid attention to by all sorts of interested parties. This means you've got some pull with how things will shake out in the future. If you are vocal, you may just be heard by enough people to enact a change in your favor or keep an unwanted change from happening.

4. The veil between the worlds can be thin, indeed. With very little effort and Google-Fu skillz, an interested reader can probably find out more about an author than she ever wished to know. This might include wonderful things like bonus excerpts, free stories, and intelligent insight on storytelling. It might also include embarrassing social gaffes, clunkers in comment threads, and unpopular opinions on reality TV. The savvy reader is forewarned. Then, too, the digital world provides an unprecedented immediacy for readers to connect with authors (and oftentimes win free stuff from them in promo contests) and express their opinions about the stories they read.

5. You can find anything on the internets. What goes for gross YouTube videos, weird porn, and vintage record collections of obscure barbershop quartets, goes for ebooks. Ebooks of all kinds, and for all tastes have been released onto the internets. Your favorite fetish, pairing, situation, setting, and type of conflict can be found in the pixels of an ebook. Some will be good, some will be less-than-polished, some will be terrible, others will be great. Many of them can be found for free, albeit illegally at file-sharing sites. Auntie Xandra's not going to rail against ebook piracy here, but she will remind gentle readers that if you score a free ebook and like it, do the right thing and buy a copy legally to show the author some love. Most of us don't count our sales in the hundreds of thousands, and for us small potatoes, we're aware of and grateful for every sale.

Well, this ended up longer than I had planned. But hopefully, it will encourage both authors and readers to really think about the possibilities that the digital world presents to us, not the least of which is the possibility of rediscovering excitement in stories.

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