Thursday, June 30, 2011

The e-Pub War has Begun!

Indie authors outselling traditionally published authors, literary agents jumping on the publishing gig, e-Books taking a huge chunk of the bookselling pie, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria!  It's nuts out there in the publishing world.

There's more news on this subject, and I bet it's only the tip of the iceberg.  Literary Agent Kristin Nelson, of Nelson Literary Agency, LLC has had some interesting observations on the publishing world's reaction to the e-book phenomenon.  Last Tuesday, she broke down Harlequin's move to 25% of net receipts for single title romances starting January 2012.  Yesterday, she continued with this theme, with a post on Random House's sudden (random?) and arbitrary move to do the same this April.

What do these moves signify?  Not sure yet what they mean in the long run, but they're certainly the next volley of shots fired.  And while for the most part, big publishing houses and indie authors have a relatively amicable relationship, I think we need to look at the underlying causes for not only this relationship, but for the moves the industry is taking in the future.

First, the indie author wants to stay in good standing with the traditional publishers.  They're the ultimate goal, after all.  They're roughly the equivalent of his future employers.  The indie author, for the most part, would love nothing more than to pick up a nice contract with a major publisher.  And publishers are always looking for that next breakout bestseller.

But the bottom line is money.  Always has been and always will be.  This industry is no different from any other in that regard.  The author wants his cut.  The publishers line up their business models to maximize profit.  If you think otherwise, compare commonly given advice that no publisher will take a debut novel of over about 130,000 words (and that's stretching it) to the success of books like Stephen King's The Stand, and countless others that push the boundaries into epic territory.  They understand they're not likely at all to make up costs on your gargantuan debut novel, but they know King can easily break into the profit column no matter what he writes.  It looks like hypocrisy, but in fact it's just the bottom line.

The e-book has been turning those profit margins and well established industry norms upside down.  GalleyCat recently referenced agent-turned-author Nathan Bradford's poll on e-book price points in their own breakdown of the various opinions of the subject.  The paradigm has shifted, and nobody knows just yet where it's settled.  The reality is that it hasn't settled yet, and it probably won't for some time.  It's going to take a while for the industry norms to balance.  As evidenced by GalleyCat's post, there is a wide range of opinion on just how much an e-book should cost.  Nobody agrees, and nobody knows who's right or wrong, if there is even a right or wrong now.

This is all about author royalties as well as what percentages agents and publishers are getting from books.  With Amazon's royalties at 70% for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and their traditional 35% for all others, it's no wonder in such a hard-to-break-into industry, so many authors are going this route.

The publishers of course, want a piece of that pie.  Not only don't they make any money off those independent sales, but those sales cut into their own.  A reader is only going to spend so much on books, and if he buys an independently published book, that's one less book publishers are going to profit from.

I'm still on the fence about indie publishing as a whole.  I think it's changed dramatically from where it began, and I also think it's going to become a sizable portion of the industry.  It's here to stay.  There are indie books out there that are just as professional as ones produced by traditional publishers.  If and when I publish a book this way, you can know for damn sure it's going to look every bit as good as something you'd buy from one of the big guys.  I won't settle for less, and that, I believe is the key to success in the indie publishing world.

Price points are something I'm still very much unsure about.  My first endeavor will most likely be a roughly 13,000-word science fiction novella.  One of those in that nebulous no-man's-land of "unpublishable" lengths.  I've seen all lengths of works priced all over the board.  Kindle phenom John Locke proudly publishes all of his novels at 99 cents.  Others price theirs on up, even over the $9.99 threshold Kindle has tried to set for the majority of its fiction.  I've seen short stories for the same price as Locke's novels, and even higher.

An author needs to find that sweet spot for pricing.  Too high and he scares away potential readers who don't want to pay as much as he's asking.  Too little, and folks start to suspect it's in the bargain bin for a very good reason.  Besides the cover and the jacket blurb, the price is really the only thing people can look at when contemplating a book.

Writing is an art.  Writing is fun.  It's the sheer exhilaration of crafting words into entertainment without a thought about how much exposure it'll get or how much money you'll make off it.  It's done for the pure craft of storytelling.

Publishing, however, is a science.  Hitting that correct supply and demand balance to ensure maximum sales.  It's all about the marketing, the publicity, getting word out there and getting your book to move.  It's my least favorite aspect of the whole thing, by a wide margin, but I realize that to be successfully published, you can't have one without the other.  You can't write and ignore marketing and sales any more than you can try marketing a poorly written book.  You may see some success, but you won't have reached your potential, and to me, that's not doing it right.

Maybe I'm a perfectionist.  Maybe I'm just hesitant to really take a chance.  But my bottom line is doing things correctly, whatever correctly is.  I'm working on it every day, and that is why this subject is so interesting.  Hang on, folks, we're only getting started.  There's a lot more craziness in store for the industry!

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