Our Uphill Battle as Writers, Part Two

Yes, it’s hard to get published. It is particularly hard if you’re trying to go the traditional route (finish your manuscript, find an agent who loves it and takes you on, get a contract with a big publishing house…or even a smaller one, etc.). Does that mean we stop trying to write? No.

Does that mean we think about self-publishing? All the experts used to give an automatic “No” to this, as well. “But the times, they are a-changing.”

Several days ago, I quoted Garrison Keillor at length about how the excellence of publishing as we know it is doomed because of the flood of self-published works hitting the marketplace, thanks to e-reading devices like the Kindle, the Nook, and now the iPad.

Of course, that is one man’s opinion. It is true that more and more people are writing today, given the easing of the process both of writing (thanks to the personal computer, which is not to say that writing is ever easy) and of publishing (thanks to the growth of self-publishing companies and POD companies and, mostly, Amazon).

What is strange is that fewer people are reading, yet more people are writing. That fact, in and of itself, probably lends credence to Keillor’s argument. Anybody can write (or, at least, pretend to write), but you have to be a great reader to be a good writer. But that is a topic for another day.

Today, I wanted to spread some of the good news for those of us struggling for the publishing industry’s seal of approval. Two weeks ago today, Publishers Weekly put out an article by Rachel Deahl, entitled “Agents Weigh the Growth of Alternate Publishing Options.” You can read the entire article here, but I wanted to zero in on some interesting new developments she mentioned toward the end of the piece.

She wrote the piece in response to a recent situation: Midlist crime novelist J.A. Konrath decided self-publishing was the way to go for his latest novel and inked a deal with AmazonEncore to that effect. The big news here is that Amazon is moving from the retail side and becoming a publisher, as well. Barnes & Noble has also announced a new self-publishing unit. What are we going to see next? Costco Publishing?

You might be tempted to overlook these moves, except that some of the industry’s most influential players–the agents who shepherd books to the big publishers–are now beginning to see the writing on the wall. One who wished to remain anonymous said:

It’s not necessarily clear that big corporate publishing is well structured to help low midlist authors with rapidly reducing print runs in an environment in which overall print sales are falling week by week. I think what Joe [Konrath] did is valuable in that he saw there was an opportunity to create low-priced content and bypass the system…what’s new here is the means.

The article notes a couple of other agents who are obviously scrambling to best take advantage of the burgeoning manuscript market.

Scott Waxman of Waxman Literary has created a separate company, Diversion Books, that is similar to AmazonEncore. He describes it as “somewhere in between the big houses and the lonely road of self-publishing.” It doesn’t pay advances, but it also doesn’t take in everyone who comes in with a manuscript. In other words, there is definitely a level of quality control. And while it may not pay you bucks up front as an author, it will give you the kind of publishing support the big houses provide.

Ted Weinstein, of Ted Weinstein Literary Management, is now reviewing the self-publishing option with all of his clients, to make certain they’re getting their books published in the smartest (meaning, the most lucrative) way. He said:

Authors can now be more self-possessed. [They can go with] a major house, an agency, or one of the turnkey services from a major retailer, whether it’s a Lulu, Blurb, Amazon, or now B&N.

In the concluding words of Rachel Deahl:

While Weinstein doesn’t see corporate publishing going away, ever, he does think the business is at “an enormous transition point” and that the outsourcing major publishers have been doing for years–forcing agents to do more editing, going with outside PR, telling authors they need to take hold of their own marketing–will mean that more agencies, and others, will jump into the publishing fray.

Any way you look at it, I believe our uphill battle as writers is leveling out a bit.

Originally posted 2010-06-07 11:10:37.

“Wednesday Writer” – Patty Old West

Patty was one of my fellow Pacific Northwest Authors taking part in the recent group signing at Barnes & Noble, and it’s a pleasure to introduce her to you today. She has an infectious smile and I have a feeling that translates to both her children’s fiction and inspirational nonfiction alike.

Patty Old WestME:  I have to admit that when I first read your name, the phrase “The Old West” came to mind and, figuring it was a pen name, I assumed you wrote Western fiction. Of course, once I dug a bit further, I realized that wasn’t so. Please tell us how you came by your name. (And I’d love to post pictures of you with both of your husbands.)

PATTY:  I married Ken Old in 1998 in Kent, England. I had visited him and his wife there in 1993 and 1996 with friends. She died in 1977 and in 1998 I visited on my way to Kenya. I sent him a letter from there saying all my waking thoughts were of him. (Sometimes it pays to be forward, ladies!) Twelve days after he received the letter we were married, and I became Patty Old. In 2007 he died and I moved back to the States.

Reply Patty and Ken(Patty and Ken)

In 2008 I sent a Christmas letter to a man I graduated with in 1949. There was no wife listed with him in our church directory and our sixtieth high school class reunion was coming up.  He replied with his own Christmas card and I let it set until the day before Valentine’s Day when I sent a reply saying if I had mailed it a day earlier I could have asked him to be my valentine. He actually got it on Valentine’s day, and called to invite me to lunch. Five weeks later we were married and I became Patty West. The Little People stories were written by Ken so I used Patty Old West as my author name.

(Aha! Now it’s all clear.)

Reply Patty and Roy(Patty and Roy)

ME:  Where were you born and raised, and how has that affected your view of the world? (I’d love a picture of you as a child.)

PATTY:  Actually, I am from the Old West. (How fitting!) I was born on Halloween, 1931 in Denver, Colorado at my grandmother’s home. My parents moved to Central City 40 miles west of Denver—a small town at 8,000’ elevation with only 200 residents. Everyone knew everyone else in town. It was known as the Richest Square Mile on Earth for its gold mines.  We lived on the side of a hill and climbing up and down the hills gave me a sense of adventure that I never lost.

Reply Patty 18 months(Patty at 18 months…she already has that winning smile)

I attended grade school there, graduating from eighth grade at the top of a class of eight.  In 1945 my folks moved to Richland. (That’s in Washington State for those of you not yet familiar with me and my whereabouts.) The first question students asked at school was, “Where are you from?” For years my answer was always, “Colorado,” even after I had lived here longer than I did in Colorado. I am a Rocky Mountain girl at heart.

ME:  When did you develop an affinity for writing and/or storytelling, and what made you realize you were good at it?

PATTY:  Actually, it was Ken who wrote the Little People stories and I have edited them for publication. (Stop right there. I’ll let you chalk it all up to Ken, if you like, but I know enough to recognize that it takes a good writer to do editing.) He wrote in King James English and some of his sentences were a full paragraph long. He didn’t have the benefit of moving sentences around, so many of the stories were out of sequence.

I have learned a lot about writing in working with the publisher. I have been encouraged by so many positive comments about how fun and exciting the stories are to read that I am going back to re-edit book one.

The Wizard of Wozzle (straight)(Volume 1)

Ken led such an interesting life that I felt his story needed to be told so I did write his biography. I spent three years researching his life before submitting the book to the publisher. They felt it was too long so it was divided into two books.

Good and Faithful ServantOnce Met Never Forgotten

ME:  How has your Christian faith affected your writing?

PATTY:  The Little People only tell the truth so all of those stories have the underlying characteristics of Christian faith without being “in your face” about it. My deep faith means I would never write a book filled with profanity or actions contrary to Christian principles.

ME:  Okay, please tell us who the “Little People” are and how the 12-part series got started. Also, which age group are they aimed at?

PATTY:  These are stories Ken told to missionary children in Pakistan. They were isolated from parents at boarding school for months at a time. He ‘invented’ the Little People—half-a-thumb high—and a wicked wizard who tries to capture them, to encourage the children to let their imaginations soar to new heights.

When he retired, he began putting the stories in writing. He had only written a few chapters when I married him. As he finished a chapter, I would do simple editing, print it out, and we would read them together. With his prolific imagination, the continuing story became twelve books.

(Note: They haven’t all been published yet. See her website for details.)

The stories are geared primarily for 8- to 15-year-olds, but younger children enjoy having them read to them. And the adults who have read them cannot wait until the next book comes out. (That pretty much seems to cover all age groups. Smart marketing. :D)

ME:  In the series, since you’re mixing reality and fantasy, do you ever have to do research in terms of travel? And whether you do or not, what was one of your most memorable places you visited, either alone or with Ken? (Also, I’d love a picture of the site and/or a picture of your home in England.)

PATTY:  The Little People stories are based in England so there was no research regarding travel, but Ken inserted a lot of history into his stories and I have done much research verifying the details of different events in history. Ken and I never travelled together outside of England or the US, but we often visited Cornwall where he spent the early days of his life. It was his favorite place to visit.

Repty Gibbins Brook Farmhouse(Their farmhouse in England)

Reply Farmhouse Living Room(Their farmhouse living room…Isn’t it cozy?)

(*Hint: If you click the picture for a larger view, you’ll be able to see lots of clues to Ken’s far-ranging travels.)

ME:  You’ve been to some pretty exotic locales, yourself. What were some of the most fascinating and which are you most likely to write about in the future? (A picture of you in the setting would be lovely.)

PATTY:  I don’t know that I will be writing about any of the places I have visited except to mention them in my biography. I have been on every continent save one and I am going to Antarctica in February with my son. (Now that’s a biography I’d definitely be interested in reading!)

One of the countries I would enjoy visiting again is New Zealand. It is like a miniature America in its landscape. I went to Peru to view Halley’s comet and enjoyed seeing Machu Picchu. And it was interesting standing on the equator and going on safari in Kenya where I patted the nose of a rhinoceros. I taught English in China for two summers and climbed the Great Wall of China. The time there was eye-opening in more ways than one. The home I stayed in when I went to Estonia took me back to my childhood. It was like stepping back into the thirties. Compared to America, it was almost primitive.

(Patty explained that all her pictures from her trips abroad were of scenery or of the people she went with…so we shall just have to imagine Patty standing here:)

great wall of chinaME:  Please describe your process of taking Ken’s story notes, written in King James English, and turning them into finished books.

PATTY:  First I go through and change all the British spellings to American. (Hmm…my latest work involves British spellings…I might have to consult you for your expertise.) Then I do the formatting—setting margins, removing tabs, formatting titles. Then I do an initial reading and edit the sentences—breaking them up into shorter sentences. As I notice paragraphs out of sequence, I move them where they belong. I also change present progressive tense to present tense at the suggestion of the first editor I had.

(Quick grammar lesson: He walks – present tense; He is walking – present progressive)

Then I read through again, correcting errors as I find them, and change text into dialogue or thought. I also make the dialogue for Jock, the little Scottish leader of the Little People, into a Scottish brogue. The read-through before I have my daughter ‘proof’’ it for me is to check for accuracy of details, insert text to clarify the action, and improve readability.

(Sounds like quite a process!)

ME:  I know you’ve written and published two biographies of Ken. Once you’ve finished the Little People series, what do you think you’ll write next—fiction or nonfiction, and why?

PATTY:  My next project is to write my own biography so my family will have a history of my life.

(Yes!)

ME:  Finally, please describe your office, or the area you use to write, in the voice of the Wicked Wizard. Feel free to use King James English or not. (And I must have a picture of your writing space.)

PATTY:

Miss Patty isn’t as smart as she thinks she is. With my brilliant mind, I would not need two printers to get my work done. And why does she need two oversize screens? Does she think she has limited vision or something? I could do just fine with the laptop screen. And the keyboard? Ridiculous! Can’t she see the buttons on her computer? Of course she has it stuck back against the wall and couldn’t reach the keys anyway. I do rather like the big TV screen that enlarges pictures and printed material. Just look at her with her nose up against the screen peering through a magnifying glass. Doesn’t she ever take a break? Her poor husband sits out in the living room hour after hour waiting for her to join him. What a patient creature he is. I wouldn’t stand for it.

(Wonderful! And here’s the visual proof:)

Patty's OfficeYou can read a lot more about Patty and Ken and their books on her website. And check out the first volume of the Little People series, THE WIZARD OF WOZZLE, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kindle.

As far as next week goes, please check in again on Wednesday for my interview with MOTHER OF RAIN author, Karen Spears Zacharias, whose work has been featured in The New York Times and The Huffington Post, as well as on CNN and NPR.

AuthorPhoto.2011-2-427x640-427x429-298x300

Originally posted 2013-09-11 12:28:18.

“Wednesday Writer” – M. Ann Rohrer

I met Ann a little over a month ago, thanks to a friend of mine, and now she’s a member of our local ANWA Chapter, the Columbia River Writers. I wasn’t surprised to find out she belongs to a few other writing groups, as well. And I have Ann to thank for passing along the invitation to take part in the recent Barnes & Noble Pacific Northwest Authors Event. While she has only published one book so far, I expect to see a lot more from her. Once you’ve read about her background, I think you’ll understand why.

ann-rohrer-author-_mattieME:  I heard some stories from the Pratt brothers in my BYU student ward back in the 70s about growing up in Colonia Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, but my memory’s poor. Please describe what it was like for you growing up there and include a picture or two. Also, what took your family there?

ANN:  Think southern Utah about sixty years ago; farming community, wide roads, redbrick homes with tin roofs on an acre or two; add tall cottonwood trees and Maples lining the streets. That is Colonia Juárez. Until relatively recently, most of the roads weren’t paved. One or two still aren’t, like the one that passes the family homestead where my mother now lives. I was born in the front room—the big window on the ground floor.

Colonia Juárez house(Interesting. That is not at all how I pictured it.)

My great grandparents were among the many families who came from Utah about 1886, to colonize and farm the land purchased by the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) from the Mexican government. My parents left the Colonies around 1950 and didn’t move back until 1980. But, we spent many summers visiting. My grandparents’ house was built in 1920 and didn’t have an indoor bathroom until the 60’s. We knew about outhouses and chamber pots. Haha.

Hated them.

(Can’t blame you.)

Summers in Colonia Juárez meant horseback riding, sneaking green apples from grandpa’s orchard, and proving our courage on the swinging bridge—a footbridge made of rickety planks held together with cables that would sway with every step. The crazy kids would jump up and down causing the bridge to undulate, scaring the living daylights out of us more cautious types.

Electricity was not consistent, and many a night we depended on coal oil lamps for light. Grandma cooked from a wood-burning stove and we did our wash once a week with a wringer washer (Believe it or not, I remember those! My grandma had one. That’s how old I am) and a big steel tub over a fire for the white clothes. I even remember weekly baths in the kitchen in one of those steel tubs. We all took turns. First one to bathe got the clean water. And it was never me.

(Hmm…too slow or didn’t you like baths?)

Colonia Juárez View

I thank Jeff Romney for permission to use this recent picture of Colonia Juárez. Central, in the background, is a Mormon temple, and bottom left in the foreground is a Catholic church. The building on the far right is the Juarez Stake Academy where students have attended high school since 1897. It is a private school owned by the LDS church with a dual-language program open to everyone for the price of tuition. My sophomore year was at the JSA. My parents lived in Peru, South America by that time, and their employer did not provide education after the ninth grade.

ME:  Why, when you were nine, did your family then move to Peru, and how did your years in Mexico compare to your ten years in Peru? Also, how have each of these places affected your writing? (And I must have a picture or two from your years in Peru, preferably one of them showing your whole family.)

ANN:  By the time I was five, my parents lived in Bisbee, Arizona. Dad worked for Phelps Dodge Copper Mine. About 1952 PD joined with other mines to form Southern Peru Copper Corporation. My father spoke Spanish and was hired in 1956 to help open the mine in Peru eventually becoming Drilling and Blasting foreman for SPCC. The picture below was taken about 1965. I’ll spare you the myriad of pictures of blasts that made it so deep. Dad was proud of his work.

Southern Peru Copper(Southern Peru Copper Corporation site)

Toquepala is a community carved out of the western slopes of central Andes Mountains for SPCC employees.

Toquepala

(You can make out the village in the lower left hand corner)

We lived at 9000 feet, the mine was at 11,000 feet, and the reservoir, where we liked to picnic, was at 12,000-14,000 feet, at the foot of the snowcaps. We could be at sea level in less than two hours. One learned to pop their ears or suffer the pain. Annual rainfall was about ½ inch. The mountainous desert was as barren as a sand dune. Close to the equator, Toquepala daytime temperatures never exceeded 75and nighttime temperatures rarely dropped to freezing.

Naturally, life’s experiences surface in my writing. Anyone reading my books will learn about green apples, weekly baths in steel tubs, wringer washers, the terror of earthquakes, and the expansive beauty and terrible force of the unforgiving Pacific.

Ann with family(Ann, front and center, with her family)

ME:  I’m curious about the reason you returned to Mexico for your sophomore year and why you didn’t stay there to finish high school rather than go back to Peru (where you earned the rest of your high school degree by correspondence).

ANN:  After ninth grade, there were three options:  boarding school in Lima 600 miles away, return home to live with relatives, or correspondence.  My parents chose to send me to Mexico to live with my Dad’s brother and his wife—wonderful people with a large family, who had a daughter my age. I was fifteen—too young, and terribly homesick. Returning to Peru for the summer, I decided to stay, choosing option three to continue my education. Through correspondence, I finished my junior and senior year in twelve months and enrolled at Brigham Young University at age seventeen. . .just.

(Good for you!)

ME:  Have you always wanted to be a writer and, if so, what was the first creative piece that convinced you that you could succeed as a writer? Please share what you remember about it.

ANN:  Haha. You should ask. It’s not glamorous, nor impressive. My mother loved my letters and told me I should be a writer. (Yay for mothers!) She said it often enough, it became a recording in my brain, and when my last child entered high school, I signed up for a creative writing class.

Over a period of fifteen years, I wrote two novels—the first one about eight times. I didn’t know if I was any good; I only knew that writing was my passion second only to chocolate and caramel. Finally, I braved a critique group about four years ago. The others were published authors who validated me as a writer. You would have thought I had won the lottery—or landed a publishing contract—I was that excited. Haha.

(We do have a responsibility, I believe, to validate each other as writers. Yay for critique groups and mothers!)

ME:  What were your earliest memories of Tucson, Arizona where your family ended up in 1965? Whether you remained there for college or went elsewhere, I’m curious if and how much you were affected by culture shock and what you ended up focusing on in college.

ANN:  I don’t remember much culture shock, other than craving bologna sandwiches and Rainbow bread. Shopping was awesome. The young men didn’t whistle or cat call. That was a relief. The biggest shock was seeing snow for the first time. I was seventeen. It quickly lost its charm. I remember one morning, my third semester, middle September, lying in bed groaning because I knew without looking, from the sloshing sounds of the passing cars, that it had snowed. Haha.

Out of money and at loose ends and very homesick, I quit school and joined my parents in Arizona. I planned to work a couple of years and go back to school. Instead, I served a two-year mission for my church in Mexico City and then got married.

(By the way, Ann and her husband are currently serving a local church service mission together here in Kennewick, Washington.)

ME:  I imagine you were (and probably still are) fluent in Spanish. After settling stateside, did you find yourself drawn to the Hispanic community? Where did you find your best friends?

ANN:  Four of my grandchildren are Hispanic. While I speak Spanish, my grandchildren don’t, and their father learned to speak it when he was a missionary in a Spanish speaking country, as did four of my six children. I have great friends of both ethnicities.

MattieME:  How did you come to write MATTIE, and what are the basic themes of the novel?

ANN:  I wrote a short story about an incident during the Mexican Revolution experienced by my grandfather. The professor suggested it would make a good chapter for a novel. It was the only positive feedback I got from him. Haha.

Except for a couple of chapters, MATTIE is set in Mexico. Based on the lives of my maternal grandparents, it is a story of struggle, faith, and courage with a hint of romance and a healthy dollop of history during the Mexico Revolution. Viva Pancho Villa!

Pancho Villa(A picture of the Mexican Revolutionary)

ME:  How would you describe your writing process and what are you working on now? Also, what is the most important principle you feel a writer should always follow?

ANN:  If at first I don’t succeed, then to heck with it. Haha. I agonize over theme, story line, plot, and characters, and get it down from start to finish. Then, I do what I love, checking for consistency and fleshing out the story with description, emotion, and dialogue.

Currently, I am in the what-I-love phase of my second novel and in the agonizing phase of my third novel, a sequel to MATTIE. For now, the sequel is percolating on the back burner at about chapter three while I get book #2 ready to pitch to a publisher.

(I told you there would be more coming.)

The most important principle a writer should follow, you ask? Is there just one? Haha. I expect every writer has a list of what is most important. Let me add just one: don’t get attached to your literary genius. Be willing to slash and burn, even if it’s brilliant.

Very painful, indeed.

(Agreed.)

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space as the character Enos would describe it from your novel. (And please include a picture of the same space.)

ANN:

“Enos thought he might find her at the kitchen table bent over a pile of papers writing in the flickering shadows cast by the coal oil lamp. Instead, she was comfortable in the family room sitting in a new fandangle chair with a hidden foot prop that whips out so she can put her feet up.  Surrounded by electric lamps, making the room bright as noonday, she opens what appears to be a black notebook without any pages. Placing it on her lap she stares for hours at a little picture-show, her fingers flying over rows of tiny squares with the alphabet painted on them in no particular order not making a lick of sense, but somehow it comes out right, like a printed page from a book.”

(Love it!)

Ann in writing space(And here she is at work!)

If you want to stay abreast of Ann’s work, you can check out her website or blog, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Her historical novel, MATTIE, is available on Amazon, Deseret Book, and Barnes & Noble.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be interviewing another local Pacific Northwest author, Patty Old West, who, together with her husband, writes fanciful tales of the “Little People.”

Patty Old West

Originally posted 2013-09-04 06:00:45.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – Effect on Booksellers

Where do you buy most of your books now? Online at Amazon or other online bookstores? At big box stores like Costco? Barnes & Noble? Or are you a die-hard fan of the small, local independent bookstore where you’re on a first-name basis with the staff?

Bookstores have been a dying breed until now. So how will they be affected by the growing popularity of digitalized books? Here are some possible developments:

•Booksellers will begin adding Espresso Book Machines to stores

•Megastores may disappear and smaller, neighborhood stores could make a resurgence

•Booksellers will become more important as guides in book selection as newspapers continue to lose their book review sections

•There will be more and more niche bookstores

According to Publishers Weekly (April 16, 2010), “Lightning Source has launched an Espresso Book Machine pilot program, done in conjunction with On Demand Books, through which select publishers will be able to offer their customers the opportunity to print their titles on the Espresso machines located in bookstores…There are currently 37 EBMs in operation and 14 planned around the world. On Demand is releasing a new model of the machine which will print books faster—roughly four minutes for a 300-page book as opposed to eight minutes—and be offered at a lower price point.”

“The new bookstores may be book/coffee/tea shop hybrids, with a while-you-wait book printing facility, digital connections to facilitate e-book browsing and purchase, and staff who know and love the books they sell.” (Richard Day, publisher of Self-Councel press)

Check out the video below showing how the Espresso Book Machine works.

Originally posted 2010-11-04 13:59:14.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – Effects on Publishers

Perhaps most anxious about all the brouhaha over e-books have been the publishers. Traditional publishers are worried, perhaps even afraid of all the change, while self-publishing companies (including POD, or print on demand companies) have visions of greater revenues. In any case, I see the main effects as follows:

  • The more adaptable traditional publishers will survive and even thrive after a few bumps in the road
  • There will be more specialized publishers aimed at niches
  • There will be more and more self-publishing
  • Cost of entry for future publishers will be minimal
  • Among the big publishing houses, there will be a devolution from complex, centralized management to semi-autonomous editorial units
  • 50% digital royalty rate may be inevitable
  • Despite all the change, the greatest value of traditional publishing will remain–the editorial process–ensuring their survival

In the latest self-publishing development, Barnes & Noble has now launched their own digital self-publishing platform called PubIt to compete with Amazon’s Create Space. (They’re also coming out with a color Nook to try and take down Amazon’s Kindle and compete more evenly with the iPad.)

As an example of the devolution that is beginning in traditional publishing, in early 2011 Simon & Schuster will reorganize into “small teams of editors, publicists, and marketing specialists.”

According to their new head, Jonathan Karp, each team, comprised of 2 editors, 2 publicists, and a marketing specialist, “will propose, develop, and execute their own publicity and marketing plans, from the moment of acquisition through paperback publication…”

“The chief objective is to create the publishing environment most conducive to focused concentration on our authors,” he continued. “Those who are present at the creation are more likely to bring a greater depth of understanding and experience to the publication of these books. Our authors will benefit from having a dedicated team working on their behalf early in the process.”

Such a development can only be good for writers, who, at times, have had to kowtow to unknowns in the large marketing or sales departments in order to get their books even approved, however lauded their work may be by the editors.

These were the main effects I could forecast from all I’ve read. If you foresee any others, please comment.

My next post will deal with the effects on agents.

Originally posted 2010-10-25 14:01:50.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – e-Books and e-Readers

Electronic readers, or eReaders, have been around for a while. I remember visiting a good friend six or seven years ago, whose husband was an avid fan. He pulled out two or three different kinds to show me. While I wasn’t that impressed at the time, he wisely predicted the day would soon come that the right platform and right device would eventually come along and tear down the wall that major publishing houses had built around themselves and all their readers.

Enter Amazon (the most popular platform of choice at present) and the Kindle. Soon after the Kindle, we got Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony eReader, and then Apple’s iPad. Here are some statistics I shared at the retreat:

  • There are currently 49 different E-reading devices, including:
  1. –Kindle (Amazon)
  2. –iPad (Apple)
  3. –Nook (Barnes & Noble)
  4. –Kobo (Kobo Books)
  5. –Sony Reader (Sony)
  6. –? (Google)
  • Retailers will sell 6.6 million e-readers this year (3 million iPads have already been sold)
  • By year’s end, 20% of households will have an e-reader.

I put a question mark at #6 above, because a lot of rumors are flying around about Google coming out soon with its own device to hook up with its platform, Google Editions. A recent LA Times article by Carolyn Kellogg played up this point:

“…Google announced it would move forward with its e-bookstore Google Editions, filling it with books whose rights were not under dispute…As if Google Editions weren’t enough, Google has another big question mark looming this season: Will it launch an e-reader? It is well positioned to rival Amazon.com and Apple as a major purveyor of e-books—and if it follows their leads, it will pair content with device and launch its own e-reader. The most recent rumors say that Google will launch a tablet manufactured either by HTC or Motorola, based on either Chrome or Android. Everyone seems to agree that Verizon is the likely wireless partner.” (Carolyn Kellogg, “Fall Preview: Publishing,” LA Times, Sept. 12, 2010)

My friend’s husband was right. Now that we’re coming out with the right platforms and devices, electronic books are here to stay.

At first, regular readers weren’t so sure. The Kindle was priced kind of high when it first came out, but as others joined in the competition, prices began to drop. Here are some more statistics I shared about eReaders:

  • 10 average priced e-books will offset $139 cost of Kindle
  • 12 average priced e-books will offset $149 cost of Nook
  • 39 average priced e-books will offset $499 cost of iPad (which is a good bit more than just an e-reader)
  • $99 can buy you the 5-inch Libre at Borders

Do you have an e-reader? I do, through my iPhone (which has a Kindle app). And we’re not alone. It’s estimated that, by the end of this year, 10.3 million U.S. homes will have an e-reader, according to Forrester Research. Not only that, but book sales are increasing because e-reader owners buy more books. E-reader owners buy an average of 15 e-books per year (and two thirds of e-readers already owned are Kindles). According to a recently released Harris poll, those who have e-Readers do, in fact, read more.

Here’s how it breaks down: Forty percent of Americans read 11+ books a year. Of those, only nineteen percent read 21+ books a year. But among those with e-Readers, 56% read 11-20 books a year with 26% reading over 21 books a year. E-reader users are also more likely to buy books (good news for us authors). And 53% of those with e-Readers say they read more now than they did six months ago. (I know I do.)

So, how are e-books doing over all?

Sales of e-books are up 200% from last year, but still only represent 3-5% of total sales for publishers (I think this statistic has probably changed over the last month). Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant, estimates e-books could be 20% to 25% of total unit sales by the end of 2012. Carolyn Reidy, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said in an interview that e-books currently made up about 8% of the company’s book revenue. She predicted that it could be as high as 40% within three to five years. Others are predicting it could go even higher–50%–by 2013.

Are e-books a good thing for us, as authors? Definitely. I tend to agree with literary agent Alexandra Machinist:

“At the moment, anything that gets readers to buy more books is a good deal for writers. I’m of the opinion that e-books provide a vast landscape of impulse purchasing and middle-of-the-night, next-in-series buys that don’t exist with traditional paper books.”

Can we make money by making our books available electronically? Definitely, but the amount we make depends on how big our audience, or platform, is.

The late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson was the first writer to sell more than 1 million Kindle books. But his books kind of caught fire and he developed a huge fan base quickly.

Can your e-book outsell your traditionally published book? Yes, given the right buzz.

In its first five days, Laura Lippman’s thriller, “I’d Know You Anywhere,” sold 4,739 e-books and 4,000 physical hardcovers. “This is the first book of ours of any consequence that has sold more e-books than hardcovers in the first week,” said Frank Albanese, a senior vice president at HarperCollins. “What we’re seeing now is that if a book gets a good review, it gets a faster lift on the digital side than it does on the physical side because people who have e-readers can buy and read it immediately.”

Every serious writer today should definitely become familiar with digital publishing. We can’t afford not to.

In my next posting, I’ll be talking about the effects of this shift on Publishers.

Originally posted 2010-10-22 11:36:13.