Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Author Advantages of E

by Raelene Gorlinsky

The below is posted on the ESPAN-RWA (Electronic and Small Press Authors' Network), part of the recent raging debate about RWA National's stance against e-publishing. (According to them, you are not necessarily a published author and you are not "career-focused" if you publish through an e-publishing company.)

ESPAN asked for an upbeat and positive article about e-publishing, so let’s chat a bit about why you as an author may want—or not want—to consider submitting books to an e-publisher.

For me, the major issue with RWA’s stance on e-publishing is that they are saying there is only one “right” way—only one publishing model that is fair to authors. I think authors are intelligent business people who deserve information on the benefits and risks of all the options available, and can then make their own choices for their career.

Remember, this is not an either/or situation. A great story is a great story, regardless of format. And digital is not going to replace print; there will be readers for both. You can have books at both primarily print houses and at e-publishers. (And with either, your book is most likely to at some point be available in both digital and print formats.) You have the opportunity to individually evaluate which path is likely to be best for you and for each book you write—and the answer will not only be different author by author, but may vary for different books from the same author.

So let’s take a look at some of the reasons you as an author should consider to go the e-publishing route. You must evaluate if or how each of these fits into your career plan.

E-publishers are more able to take a chance on new authors or risky stories. That gives you more freedom to write the type of story you want, reach niche markets and subgenres.

It all comes down to the business reality of “Can we sell enough copies of this book to cover costs and make a profit?” The massive advantage of e-publishing is that we can take chances on books that the big print publishers won’t touch. If you’ve got to sell minimum 10,000 or so copies of a mass market paperback to make a profit, and have to commit money up front (an advance) to the author that the book may never earn, then of course a sensible publisher only wants books aimed at the middle-of-the-road majority, ones they feel are a “sure thing”.

E-pubs will look at the advantages of a great book aimed at a small niche market or by an unknown author with a quirky style or in a chancy sub-genre that is just reaching for popularity. An e-publisher can cover costs on a much smaller number of sales, and so is willing to take the risk of offering opportunities to authors that big publishers won’t give them. (Remember, NY rejected erotic romance until e-pubs had built up the reader market for it and turned it into a successful genre with big sales.)

More flexibility in story lengths.

Print publication requires some physical size and pricing considerations. Readers just don’t perceive a book with a quarter-inch width to be value for the money (unless it’s a free promo item). So short stories and novellas have to be batched into anthologies for print. And a publisher can sell only so many anthologies, meaning the available slots are very limited. They also recognize that many readers won’t pay for a full anthology book if they don’t love all the authors contained.

But a digital book can be any length, and can be priced accordingly. And readers seem to love buying individual short stories. So there is a huge market within e-publishing for that shorter story that NY has no space for.

A monthly paycheck.

No, most e-pubs do not routinely offer advances. But most pay royalties monthly (a few quarterly, I’ve heard), based on actual sales. Many authors feel they manage better with a steady income rather than a big chunk once or twice a year. Or they want a combination—most of the Ellora’s Cave authors who’ve now sold to traditional NY pubs are continuing to write for EC for that very reason. They’ve told me they want or need that monthly “paycheck” from their e-pub to carry them between advances from NY.

Less stress due to being able to work at your own pace, fewer deadlines.

Submission process is easier, cheaper, generally faster. Doesn’t require an agent.

Being able to get published more quickly, and have more books come out in a shorter period of time—thereby building your name recognition and fan base.

Backlist, backlist, backlist!

An e-book doesn’t go “out of print” until the contract expires (if ever), unlike print books that disappear from the store shelves within a few months and are not available anywhere once the print run is sold out. New fans of an author purchase backlist heavily, so the story generates continuing income. Many an e-pubbed author is making more from backlist than frontlist.

Many e-publishers also eventually issue some or all of their books in print.

So, again, it isn’t an “either/or” choice—just a choice of where your book starts.

So make your decisions based on what is right for your career and your life. There is no need for “us” versus “them” in the publishing industry. It’s all “we.”

Raelene Gorlinsky, PublisherEllora’s Cave Publishing Inc.


Amy Corwin said...

But wait!
There is a group that RWA put together—I’m one of the members—trying to study the question of e-publishing. While our charter is more educational, i.e. preparing information for dispersal to our membership about e-publishing, I’m hoping that it will help on at least some of these fronts.

The sad truth is that you have to have rules and boundaries of some sort. RWA is struggling with this (and with the mindset that e-publishing is slightly tainted or has the stigma that authors who have e-published just did so because they’re not “good enough” for NY). Even the publishing industry is struggling with the changes at the moment much in the same way the music industry has been struggling. RE: RITA’s – I was ejected from that because my publisher uses POD technology. I find it somewhat ironic that this may bounce some NY-published authors in the near future since even NY publishers are moving in that direction. So we’ll see what happens there. It may soon be very, very difficult to make any distinction between NY and e-publishers other than where they are physically located, the way things are going. NY is even talking about doing away with advances in favor of other payment structures.

But back to the topic: Other writers groups, e.g. Mystery Writers, are more conservative and have set higher bars or hurdles for writers to jump over to join. Often the limit is an advance of $3,000. And I’ve always appreciated the fact that you could join RWA BEFORE you publish your first book in order to access all the resources that can help you attain your goals--whatever they are. I don’t know of any other writers groups that let you join before you make your first sale with an advance of $3,000 (or more).

Much of what RWA has done has peeved me mightily, and it’s hard to get away from the implication that we (e-published authors) aren’t quite up-to-snuff. But I do think they are trying to find an acceptable path through the weeds and one way they are doing it is by creating groups like the one I belong to, to study these issues. Even if some folks in RWA don’t particularly like it. ;-)

So as they say: Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater quite yet. RWA is at least making the attempt to look at this.

ECPI Editors said...

Hi, Amy,

Yes, I belong to the same group you have mentioned. And it is not an official RWA-sponsored or approved group or task force or anything. It is a volunteer group of people wanting to change RWA.

I am on the group's committee to consider publisher standards (applicable to ALL publishers, regardless of format).

RWA's official stance is still very anti-e. The people who run RWA have no interest or intent to change that. The point of the RWAChange group is to work from within to bring change that "management" is refusing to consider or address.

My point is not that RWA shouldn't have standards - but that they should accept multiple viable business models. They should disseminate information and let authors make their own choices.


Tarot By Arwen said...

I said the following on the ESPAN-RWA post by Raelene.

"When RWA members are hurt by fly-by-night publishers (print or digital), it is for two reasons.

1. They did not take advantage of the education RWA provides.
2. They did not receive education because RWA turned a deaf ear to their membership.

I love RWA and I am not going anywhere. #RWAChange is for positive change within an organization I love."

It's urgent that RWA focus on education for all authors. Digital publishing rights are something that effect every writer.

This is Arwen but I write as Marilu Mann.

Lisette Kristensen said...

This is an issue that chaps my a**.

You would think RWA would be interested in maximizing all formats of publishing. To encourage aspiring and published authors to use the format best suites their work.

Even when it comes to publishers they have an attitude, and turn their nose up on published short story authors.

To stretch the point some, let's say I am published by one of the approved RWA publishers. My book gets little shelf space at bookstores, so Amazon is my outlet of choice. Now my books sells well to meet the criteria of a published author, but the majority of sales are through Kindle. Since technically Kindle is a down loadable format like epub, would those sales be disallowed?

RWA needs to wake up and realize epub, POD and electronic media is going to be a major force in the publishing industry.

(stepping off the soap box)