To “e,” or Not To “e” (as in “e-publish”)

What does the future hold?

Next Friday’s entry will be a rebuttal to this post from my good friend Brandon R. Schrand in the form of an excerpt from his soon-to-be-published second memoir, Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem, Misbehavior & and How a Good Book Can Save Your Life; Or, an Anti-Kindle Memoir

But without further ado…

Am I making Much Ado About Nothing?

As I sit poised on the brink of what I believe to be the completion of my first novel (of course, that assumption could be my first problem), I am faced with a dilemma that has multiple sides to it, ranging from my opinions as a writer to my opinions as a reader.  That dilemma is whether or not to e-publish my book.

Aaaahhh!  Booo!  Hisssss!  Thppt! (picture Bill the Cat for that last one.  And if you don’t know who Bill the Cat is, stop reading this and go pick up a book of Bloom County)

Anyway, I know that’s going to be many of your first reactions to my question (while I would hope that many of you might be thrilled that after almost seven years of hearing about it, you might actually get to read my book).  Before I go much further, let me tell you how I reached this point.

As many of you know, for the past seven years, I have been working with a pretty reputable literary agent.  In fact, when I attended the Maui Writer’s Retreat and Conference in 2003, of the many agents featured there, she was my top choice.  The work and time and treatment she gave to an unknown author has been invaluable.  Even today, though we’re not working together anymore, when I send her an email asking for her opinion on something, I will always hear back from her within one or two days.  Anyone who has dealt with an agent knows how impressive this is.

not working together anymore?

Correct.  The bad news came right around Thanksgiving of last year when she told me that she wouldn’t be taking on any new horror projects.  There’s more to it, but I won’t bore you with the details (unless you ask me directly).  There are also reasons why it’s probably better that I move on, but we can talk about that in more depth later, too, if any of you want.  More importantly, the end result was that after seven years of believing I had an avenue for publication and a proven successful person with connections to do the footwork for me so I could just focus on my art, I was back to square one.  Well, not quite back to square one.  She gave me a good recommendation for a new agent (and permission to name drop).  But more importantly, after seven years, I also had a novel that was worlds better than the first draft, written in a little over 30 days.

But it still felt like a pretty good kick in the crotch.

I had been keeping an eye on the e-publishing market for a couple of years, but I always figured my agent would handle that side of things.  Now, sans agent, why wouldn’t I at least try to move forward on my own?

Now my writer friends will be quick to cite numerous examples of famous authors who went through dozens of rejections before finding success.  I’m very aware of these instances, but really, comparing these two situations is like comparing apples to oranges.  Let me give you an analogy to try to relate where I am.

You really love cars.  You love how they drive and the feel of freedom you get when you’re on that long stretch of highway purring along comfortably at 80 mph when it just feels like 45.  You don’t necessarily know how the car is built, nor do you really care to go through all the work to produce one (this is a pretty convoluted metaphor, so I hope you can keep up).  For your 16th birthday, for your first car you are given… well, I don’t know that much about cars, so let’s say a Mercedes.  Or a BMW.  Or a Lexus.  After having a good while to drive this luxury automobile, someone shows up and takes it from you and says, “Okay, now go get a minimum wage job that will maybe get you a Geo Metro.”

“Or you can try and build one yourself.”

I’m the first to admit that I was very fortunate in getting my top choice for an agent on my first outing into the market, but can you see how hard it is to start over after that?  So while I’m working on finding another agent, I’m also considering “building one myself.”

Still, given all that, I recognize that this might be blasphemy to some of you.  To an extent, it is to me as well.  I feel just a little dirty, kind of like when I buy a Christmas present from Wal-mart.  I love books.  I love to hold them, turn the pages, fall asleep with them, and peruse them on bookshelves in other people’s homes.  And it gives me hope for the future when I see my 16 month old daughter sitting by herself, turning the pages of her favorite books.  Personally, I don’t own any sort of e-reading device and don’t anticipate getting one in the near future.  But for me, it’s not entirely a moral objection, even as a writer.  Whatever gets the word out to people, gets people to actually read more, I’m all for it.  It’s just not really that practical or preferable for me.

But I’ve always been a holdout for new technology.  While it was a pretty smooth transition for me from records to cassettes, I’ve resisted almost every other change in music technology.  Much as I love my iPod now, I probably still wouldn’t have one if I didn’t one as a gift five years ago.

But I digress.  I was saying that it will probably be quite awhile before I ever own a Kindle or Nook or any other sort of e-reading device, but it’s not entirely for moral reasons.  And I’ve been surprised by how many dyed-in-the-wool book fans have crossed over.  And again I wonder, is a device that keeps people reading, or even reading more (including reading more books by amazing authors who have yet to find a mainstream publisher… ahem…) necessarily a bad thing?  As writers and/or avid readers, are we supposed to hate this medium simply because it’s not printed on paper?

(Another point of discussion which I won’t go into here, but which is interesting to me, deals with the relative longevity of the written word versus recorded popular music when it comes to the resistance to a change in presentation format.)

What is undeniable is that the numbers are there for this method of publication.  And I’ll be honest with you, while I have an occupation right now which puts food on my table, I’ve been a starving artist for long enough, I think.  But it’s not the money for which I’m hungry.  Well, it would certainly be nice to get paid for my art, but that’s not the main drive.  What I want is to see my work, my words, out there in the world.  And yes, I want to know if a stranger would put down a few bucks to read my book based on the recommendation of a friend or acquaintance.

If you read my introductory post (“Why do I like to write horror stories?”) you know that I write because I don’t have a choice.  I’m not happy when I’m not writing; it’s as simple as that.  But I also write because I am a storyteller.  I want to entertain people.  I want people to talk about the stories I tell.  Have I paid my dues as an artist to deserve that?  I don’t know.  But I know that I’ve worked for it.  Is it cheating a little to self-publish?  Probably, but I also have to do all my own marketing if I want to succeed, which is looking to be almost a full time job itself.  Are Thoreau, Hemingway, Hawthorne, Dickens and Dickenson turning over in their grave so fast they could be generating electricity?  Most likely, but they should take comfort in the fact that many readers (myself included) are still carrying a torch for the old pen and parchment version of storytelling… oh wait a minute.  Guess we don’t tell stories that way anymore, either.

What do I want from you?

So what are your thoughts?  Are you a reader?  Books only?  Have you converted?  Has Guy Montag already been born? (see: Bradbury, Ray.  Fahrenheit 451.)   I look forward to hearing your opinions.

And don’t forget to check back next Friday to read the excerpt from Brandon Schrand’s upcoming second memoir, Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem, Misbehavior & and How a Good Book Can Save Your Life; Or, an Anti-Kindle Memoir

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28 responses to “To “e,” or Not To “e” (as in “e-publish”)

  1. Pablo- Really excited for you, and I think this step is a good one. I am also not a writer, so take that for what its worth. I just got an eReader, but I do love the feel and smell of a physical book. We will see.

    As for technology vs. old school…. I remember not long ago I said I would never own a cell phone. Now my smart phone lets me be much more mobile. I swore I would never need a car GPS. Now I don’t know how I lived without one. I was certain I never needed a DVR. I have one and enjoy its convenience. I can also think of plenty other technology examples that I tried to adopt that did not make the cut. I am truly not sure which column the eReader will ultimately fall into. But I am willing to give it a chance.

    Best of luck brother. I look forward to buying (and promoting) your book in September.

  2. Hi Paul,

    I love books. I read them, write them, collect them and sell them. I salivate in used book stores (I try not to drool on the books). I love the smell of a book, the feel of a book, especially the thick ones. The thought of travelling with a group of wonderful characters, who I hope to get to know well, over the span of hundreds upon hundreds of pages, sends a shiver down my spine.

    But I digress. Back to your question. Have I converted?

    I haven’t personally, but I have recently given my husband a Kindle as a gift for his birthday, and it is a great tool for him. Being middle-aged and on the computer constantly for work, his eyes are changing making it difficult for him to read the small print of his favourite books. The Kindle allows him to change font type and size and because it’s not back-lit like a computer screen or iPad, and it is very compact he can take it anywhere – inside or outside – to read.

    It will also read to him if he’s had a particularly rough day at work, needs a distraction to quiet his mind, but has tired eyes that he can’t keep open.

    Your point that ebooks will keep people reading is bang on and while I know the joy of watching children flip through a picture book, I suppose as long as they have a continuing interest in the written word, regardless of how those words are presented, that’s all that matters.

  3. Mr. Dail, my mom has published an e-book and I’ve read quite a few for college classes myself. In my opinion, e-publishing is convenient. You don’t have to leave your house to go to a library or bookstore and you can get the desired information almost immediately. However, I don’t think that it is the best way to get an author’s name “out there” (even though it is a step above not publishing at all). Personally, I prefer hard copies and have a hard time looking at a computer screen for any considerable amount of time. Even when I have read e-books, I have to find an online recording of someone reading the book to me so I can rest my eyes from time to time. Traditional books are great because you can take them anywhere, although new nook and kindle technology might become popular enough to make e-publishing worth while. However, the people that I know use this technology read books that have already been “hard-published.” I hope that your book sells. Even though horror is definately not my favorite genre, I love your creativity and storytelling capabilities.

    • Thanks CJ. I appreciate your comments. I’m definitely a hard copy fan myself, but I recognize the value of the e-readers. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get one someday. Hope all is well for you. When’s your launch date? I haven’t seen you on Facebook in awhile.

  4. As a writer who is, yes, self-published (though I will soon be traditionally published as well, so I’ll be a duelly?), and who has sold a pretty good chunk of books (over 10,000 so far this year), I have to tell you that as far as sales, my ebooks sell at about 90:1 vs printed copies. There are a couple of reasons I believe this happens.

    Firstly, you are able to offer ebooks for a far lower price than a printed book. People like to save money. So if they have a choice of paying $12.99 for a paperback, or $3.99 for an ebook, guess which one they’re going to pick? Since, as a self-pub author, you’ll be doing your own marketing (ugh! be prepared, it’s a joyless job), it’s difficult to get readers to take a chance on you, anyway. Add to that the high cost of a paperback, and your odds decrease. If you can offer a lower priced alternative, so much the better. I have readers who have read the ebook, then ordered the paper book to have on their shelf. But had they only had the paper version choice to begin with, they probably wouldn’t have ever read me. And royalties on the two? Exactly the same.

    Secondly, I firmly believe ebooks are the future. I myself am a Kindle owner and lover. It looks the same as a book page (absolutely no eye strain due to no back-lighting, so the I’m-on-a-computer-all-day-and-my-eyes-are-too-tired-for-ereaders argument doesn’t wash), and I can get a book immediately. I was sitting on a beach in Mexico, finished what I was reading, and downloaded another book to read. Can’t do that with paperback.

    Both my mother and mother-in-law were given Kindle’s for Christmas (not by me) and both were somewhat disheartened. They love to read, and both claimed they could never love reading anything that wasn’t paper and print. Now? They both absolutely love it, wonder how they went without. They can’t say enough good about their Kindles.

    I guess then my opinion is that there is absolutely no reason not to epublish, in conjunction with publishing a paper version as well. If you don’t, you’ll only be cutting your own throat, so to speak.

  5. Hi Paul,

    As a successful publicist and author & book promoter I can tell you with confidence that eBooks are huge right now and they are only becoming MORE popular as time passes. With eBooks you don’t have to worry about printing costs, shipping fees, etc. If you couple electronic publishing with being an Indie author, the world is your oyster…

  6. wow. I don’t know what was more informative. Your post or all the interesting responses. I had forgotten about Bloom County.
    I don’t own e anything but I have too many unread books in my house to justify it.
    I am also writing a book so I found all the input very interesting and I look forward to reading your friend’s rebuttal.

    • I still read Bloom County every now and then. Good stuff. And glad to hear you’ll be back for my next posting. It will actually be later this evening. My goal is to have a post up every friday. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be sure to check out your blog, as well.

  7. Paul, I completely relate to the crossroads you find yourself at. In fact, I wrote a blog post entitled To E or Not To E myself (http://www.jennymilchman.com/blog/?p=1414)…just about a month before I received an offer for my debut novel from a major. Like you, I’d had agents (3). I’d also gotten very close to a deal enough times to number into the double digits. Since you write horror, you might want to check out all the gory details http://www.jennymilchman.com/blog/?p=1531

    But enough about that–you are trying to make this decision yourself. I hope my two (one and a half?) cents may be helpful.

    I believe there are pros and cons on both sides. The biggest pros for indie publishing are cons for traditional: control and speed. My novel won’t be out for another year and a half. Even if you write at a relatively slow pace you can probably have 2 books available in that time, and be building your audience. You will be able to determine your cover art. And you’ll have all the time in the world to make your book a success–an e book never dies, and there will be neither publisher nor bookseller yanking your book if it doesn’t sell well initially.

    These very things impact some of the pros I see on the traditional side–and of course, who am I, brand new to this, and who knows if it’ll go the way I’m now seeing? But the sense I’m getting is that because a traditional launch depends on a big initial splash…my publisher is gearing up for a big splash. I couldn’t do this myself. I couldn’t get PW to review my book, or the NYT, or any of the big pubs. I couldn’t get it into bookstores nationwide, certainly not the chains.

    A lot depends on how people will be reading by the time your book comes out. I also love print, and it seems others do too, enough that I’d be surprised if the book goes away, but clearly lots of people will read digitally. For me being in bookstores was very important–this went beyond money-making decisions or even what would produce the biggest volume of sales. Will a low-priced e book sell more copies than an expensive hardcover by an unknown? Quite possibly. If your work is good enough to have gained you an agent would a launch by a big house do something for you that an indie release will not? Quite possibly, too.

    In the end my two cents is probably simple enough that I could strike this too-long comment.

    Think about what’s most important to you as an author. Money? Readers? Sales? Physical books? Touring? Reviews? The next book? Indie or trad–each will impact the above.

    Then see what opportunities present themselves.

    If you reach a point where having a book out is the most important thing, do that–in whatever method is available at that time.

    And good, good luck!!

    • Jenny, great response. I thought I was being so clever with my blog title. What is it they say about great ideas? Something about how many people have the same new idea at the same time? Oh well. Great minds think alike, eh?
      Anyway, more than anything congratulations on your book deal. That is definitely still my ultimate goal, but it seemed to me (perhaps erroneously) that having some proven sales would help me get a new deal. I agree with all of your pros and cons, especially the fact that a publisher will give you a marketing package. Self-promoting is very time consuming, when in reality, all I really want to do is write. And maybe they know more than I do when it comes to things that we want to control (cover image, book jacket description, etc…)
      Thanks again for your comment. I’ll be sure to check out your blog. And keep me posted on your book.

  8. Hi Paul!
    I’m a lover of books, and have a hard time thinking about conversion. However, I agree with the new technologies, and being convenient for new generations… your post and all the wonderful responses actually has me thinking about smashwords too.

    I self published- but not intentionally- I thought I was being traditionally published but with what they referred to as a “joint” contract that made it really easy to fool me~ the writer who really wanted to be published after so many years of loving books. I even researched the company but didn’t happen upon any of the warnings. Talk about feeling the fool! Nothing feels more dirty than our little beauties being used against us!

    The thought of conferences and agents just gets me, and I feel your pain. What a great analogy! Truly understood! Smiled “out loud” shook my head completely relating.

    I would not feel dirty however, you’ve gotten a real agent- even if it worked only for a little while, you have that to fall back on, knowing a professional was going to help you get out there. That is big- that is huge- and even if she isn’t with you any longer- you had her help and that builds confidence to go ahead and put yourself out there in a “build your own” and know it will “run.” so to speak.

    So personally- I think you had enough help to be able to say that yeah- you had an agent and she helped you along enough to know you weren’t being conned- nor truly building it yourself- your tools didn’t rust or get stolen! 🙂

    You polished them, kept them clean and then used your talent to get them out there-

    Kudos!

    In my personal opinion anyway 🙂

    🙂

    Kerry

    • Kerry, I’m curious what happened with this other publisher. I don’t think I’ve heard of a “joint” contract. I hope you were at least able to keep all the rights to your work. Was this for Astral Avenger? Anyway, thanks for your comments. Write on!

  9. Pingback: Guest post/excerpt from memoirist Brandon R. Schrand | Paul D. Dail

  10. Jenny, I would add my congrats to those of Paul. It’s HUGE to finally get that validation in being published. I know for me, it gave me a sense of validation I didn’t get from being self-pub, though honestly, at this point, I much prefer the perks to being self-pub than anything I’m receiving (or not receiving, as the case is) in being in line to be trad.

    I did want to ask: do you have a marketing package a part of your contract? I have one self-pub, and a second to be released trad this December (which was actually previously self-pub). However, there is no marketing pkg from the publisher. I will still be doing all of my own marketing, the same as if I did not have a publisher. They’ve already contacted me and told me to start blogging, and to get on book review blogs, and get to know the reviewers there (both of which I already do heavily). I’ve read from many trad authors that unless you’re a Stephen King, Danielle Steel, or Stephenie Meyer, plan on doing all of your own marketing.

    Also, like you, I really wanted my book on bookstore shelves. It remains to be seen what this will do to sales vs the way I sale my self-pub book, but in the meantime, you can read much info about reviews. The general concensus seems to be that the thousands of book bloggers that are out there (and will review your book for nothing more than sending them a copy) have far more influence upon sales than any review in NYT, PW, or EW (IF you can even get a review from them) and therefore most publishers are sending books to those people.

    I’m curious: are there any trad authors reading this? If so, what is your experience with marketing under the direction of a publisher? I’d love to know if what I’ve heard is right on, or way off base.

    • Cindy, this was a great response and you’ve raised some good questions. I’m very curious now about marketing packages, because I had always assumed that a traditional publishing house deal would come with a marketing package. I think it’s a great question to pose to other Book Blog members.

    • Cindy, I’ve posted your comment on book blogs to see what sort of response it gets. I’ll be curious as well.

  11. About a year ago horror writer Brian James Freeman had an interesting promotion. He gave away his eBook for a limited time, hoping fans will buy the hardcover. I think it worked out well even though I’m not sure how well. He did get a lot of publicity.

    Have you considered selling an eBook and a limited edition hard cover?

    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

    • Thanks for stopping by. I’ve heard similar things to the Freeman story. It’s such an interesting business. So many possibilities.

      As to your question, as I am currently unaffiliated (although still on the search for a tradi-publisher), and bringing in a measly teacher’s salary, my only option at this point is going with CreateSpace for a print-on-demand trade paperback. All it costs me is my time (seeing as what is “limited edition” are my funds 🙂 )

      But being new to this business, I’m open for any suggestions. Is there somewhere that does p.o.d. hard covers?

  12. Paul,

    I’m in a similar boat. I have had lots of books published and a reasonable degree of success as a writer–but it’s always about getting the next book published, and a solid track record is no guarantee of a future deal. I’m a bookstore owner and a book collector, to boot! But I’ve started exploring the world of e-book self-publishing, too. It’s a strange and different beast, but it has its own inspirational success stories. Best of luck to you (and to me)!

    • Jeff, based on your bio, I think you’re being modest. But you are right about getting the next book published, and I would say that’s the hardest thing about self-publishing. I’ve never been a big fan of the business, would always rather just do the art. But that’s where I am at right now (and I’ve also heard that unless you’re with the big six, you’re pretty much in charge of your own marketing anyway).

      Besides that, sounds like you are living the dream, my friend. Bookstore and book collector. Sounds pretty good to me. Yes, best of luck to us both.

  13. Even when you’re with the big 6 — unless you are one of the double handful of authors who hit the NYT list every time out–you are largely on your own, marketing wise. They can do the very important task of getting the book into bookstores, but beyond that they don’t do much. I’ve had original novels published by Penguin and S&S–about as big as you can get–but the vast majority of promotion has been what I did on my own.

    • Wow, I was under a pretty big misconception, I guess. Attended the Maui Writer’s Retreat twice (as I mentioned, the first time was Nancy’s class), but don’t recall hearing anything about that… but perhaps the tide has changed since I went (2003 & 2004). Anyway, I guess that when I land a deal with a publisher (which is still my ultimate goal… howsoever far in the future that may be 🙂 ), I’ll be prepared by starting this whole process now.

      Thanks again for your insightful comments.

  14. Excellent post, thank you! I am an avid reader, and I prefer the feel of a book in my hands, I prefer the texture of the pages,the feel of the binding in my palms, and the smell of paper and glue. I am a reluctant adopter of e-reader technology (I know my folks are giving me a Kindle for Christmas), and so I’ve been contemplating what e-books offer me as a reader. E-readers offer me a technology for carrying thousands of stories around in a device that I can easily transport and use. I have more purchasing power for e-books which are more affordable than their printed counterparts, and I can explore new authors and genres by reading samples before buying. I loe the fact that indie writers can get their stories and their voices heard, no longer constrained by the gatekeepers in the traditional publishing industry (although I believe the privilege of indie publishing brings with it a great responsibility for quality and literary accountability). I’ll always have a preference for printed books but I’ve realized that as a writer and an admitted reading junkie, e-books have a place in my life as well. And as long as e-books are proliferating and increasing numbers of previously unpublished authors are making a name for themselves, Guy Montag doesn’t stand a chance!

    • Thanks for your comments. Some excellent points. I’m wondering how long it will be before someone gives me an e-reader. As you read, I’m kind of a holdout for technology.

      I think you have a great point on “quality and literary accountability.” Several years ago when I attended the Maui Writer’s Conference, I remember meeting several people who told me they were going the self-publishing route, and upon seeing their stuff, I realized there was a reason they weren’t getting picked up. However, I agree that the tradi-publishing industry is a fickle beast and many great writers are passed over. It is my hope that a saturated indie market will find a way separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

      Thanks again. Heading over to check out your blog, as well (Yay for another WordPress author! 🙂 )

  15. Pingback: My So-Called Writing Life: Reconsidering Traditional Publishing | Paul D. Dail

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