Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Old New Castle, Delaware
E-books seem to have reached the tipping point. It’s all anyone’s been talking about lately. If you read our blog you know that I was a Kindle early-adopter. I’m crazy about my Kindle. It’s not that I read everything on Kindle, I’ve found that nine out of every ten books I read on Kindle are fiction. I just can’t get used to reading nonfiction electronically. I’ve found I’m reading three times the number of books I read before e-books. Go figure.
I also bought the iPad right away but don’t like it for reading– the size is all wrong. I went back to the newest Kindle. So I know e-books. I read e-books. I am not a Luddite.
But as the e-book chatter has increased I keep thinking to myself, e-books are definitely broken. If not now, wait six months.
But first, let me make a distinction. So far I have no complaint about e-books done by the traditional publishers as a different “binding,” part of a published author’s array of book options. Nowadays we talk about hardcover, trade paper, mass market, possibly large print and e-books. All great options for the reader.
The broken part of e-books is the do-it-yourself e-books being self-published by authors.
Okay, I know someone who’s reading this is thinking, “you’re only miffed because agents and publishers are cut out of the equation when we publish our own books.” No, really, that’s not true. Let me tell you why I’m worried:
Lack of a Marketing Plan. Yes, everyone can publish his own book these days, but you will have the same challenge vanity published authors have always had. How do we drive readers to our books? Last week, e-book phenomenon, Amanda Hocking, had a brilliant blog post about her success. Read it here.
She pointed out that, “Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren’t all that different, and I don’t think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren’t. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it’s harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.” She added, “I don’t think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, ‘Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now,’ and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account.” She was honest when she said, “This is literally years of work you’re seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.”
Lack of Editing/ Lack of Quality: This is not a given, some books– especially reprints– will be professionally edited but I’m worried about the majority of manuscripts that will be self-published for e-books. Last week, Janet Kobobel Grant blogged about the importance of editing here. I’m not going to repeat what she said. When we’re finding a slump in dedicated readers I’m worried about what will happen when readers can’t differentiate between a quality book and the inevitable dreck. (We see a lot of the books authors believe are ready for publication. Believe me, they are not.) How can readers sort the good from the bad? Will readers give up?
Terrible Book Covers: So far, most of the self-published e-books I’m seeing have book covers that scream self-published. It is imperative to have a professional cover design. The potential buyer will make a decision based on what they see and read about your book. A good portion of that buying decision is visual.
Lack of Brand Consistency: Again this is not a given, but if writers publish all the different genres in which they’ve experimented, it’s going to be a disaster as far as brand is concerned. This is especially dangerous for established authors who’ve decided to self-publish some out-of-the-box books. Because of the marketing difficulties, the only readers they will be marketing to will be their traditional reader list. What kind of damage can be done if the books violate the brand the readers have come to expect?
Competition with the Publisher: When an established author decides to self-publish e-books he is directly competing with his own publisher. There are only so many book-buying dollars. It remains to be seen how publishers will react to this, but chances are they will not be enthusiastic about investing marketing dollars or offering generous contracts to someone who is directly competing against them. And if the writer is undercutting their prices, it will cause chaos.
When one of our authors works with more than one publisher, we have the time-consuming task of making sure each book releases in its own season– carefully spacing out the books so maximum attention can be given to each book. We call it being air traffic controllers– making sure we land each plane safely with plenty of space between. Who’s going to do that work? Again it could be chaotic.
Competition with the Bookstore: We can’t forget that it’s been the bookstores who’ve supported writers over the years. How are they going to feel about those self-same writers competing against them for the limited dollars. If you’ve been supported by indie bookstores, Walmart or even Christian Book Distributors, how do you think they’ll react to these books that they can’t offer to the readers they’ve nurtured on your behalf?
It’s Still Early Days. An agent is paid to worry and we’re mighty good at it. We need to consider all possible pitfalls. Who knows if my worries will pan out or not. But for now, I’m anticipating a whole mess of brokenness. This is one of those “don’t try this at home” warnings without considering all that’s at stake. There is much to lose.
Your turn: All of this is controversial. I haven’t seen anyone else tackling these issues. Am I overreacting? I know many see self-publishing and e-book self-publishing as a way around the gatekeepers, but what about the chaos? Please feel free to comment and argue any of the points I’ve made. That’s how we learn together.