Tuesday, February 05, 2008

So What's the Deal With e-Publishing?

John left the following comment on last night's post:

So you like e-publishing? What are the uses and abuses?

I saw somewhere that you had published on Ellora's Cave.

I frequently speak of traditional publishing and self-publishing. In my mind, those are the only two distinctions in the publishing industry. They are two distinct business models, and everything else falls under one or the other of those two designations.

So where does e-publishing fall?

It is traditional publishing, using a different medium. Instead of print books, it releases electronic books, also called e-books. That's the main difference. In e-publishing, as in print publishing, you submit to a publisher who evaluates your manuscript and decides whether to accept it for publication. When your e-book sells, you receive statements and royalties.

Are there differences between print publishing and e-publishing? Yes, but they are the result of two different mediums, not two different business models. There are pros and cons on both sides.

First, let's talk about print publishing:

  • The investment on the part of the publisher is larger (printing costs, distribution, warehousing) so the publishing houses are more cautious. As a result, the bar for acceptance is set higher.
  • It takes a lot longer to see your book published; a year from the time the contract is signed is pretty common.
  • Because of the longer lead time to release, print publishers generally offer advances against sales (commonly given in thirds: one third when you sign the contract, another third upon the publisher's determining the manuscript is acceptable and the final third upon release).
  • Print publishing has been around a lot longer than e-publishing so the distribution network is better established. This means that, at this point in time, you will probably sell more books via print publishing than e-publishing.

Now, let's talk about e-publishing:

  • E-publishing is much less expensive than print publishing so e-publishers are more open to taking chances on genres and writers. For someone tired of rejection letters or impatient to be published, e-publishing can offer an attractive alternative.
  • The time lag between the signing of a contract and the release of a book is much shorter in e-publishing than in print publishing.
  • Because of the accelerated release schedule, e-publishing doesn't typically pay more than a token advance, if any. E-publishing doesn't need to allow for reserves for returns from bookstores so royalties are paid on a monthly or quarterly basis immediately after release.
  • E-publishing is much more open to a variety of book lengths. It's much easier to sell shorter stories online than in print publishing.
  • Although print publishing might sell more books, e-books offer MUCH higher royalty rates. It is not uncommon for an e-book writer to receive 33% to 40% royalty rates.
  • E-publishing is a newer medium. That means there are some better-established e-publishers and a lot of start-ups. It is so easy to become an e-publisher, that people are able to create a business in their kitchen in a few days. Writers who have been unable to find publication for their work decide they'll self-publish by opening up their own publishing house. They seek other writers to lend their "publishing house" credibility. These do-it-yourself operations frequently run into financial problems. They go out of business at an alarming rate. If you are considering e-publishing, you need to stick to the better-known companies.
  • Readers of sci-fi and romance were among the first to embrace e-books, but other readers are now beginning to embrace the medium. And the establishment is taking note. Amazon recently released the Kindle e-reader. Today's Publishers Weekly reported: "Reflecting the growing importance of digital publishing to traditional publishers, Simon & Schuster has created the position of Chief Digital Officer and named Elinor Hirschhorn to fill the spot. "
  • Print publishers have been offering contracts to the better-known e-book writers. MaryJanice Davidson is among those who got her start in e-books. Interestingly enough, many writers who accepted print contracts continue to write for e-publishers. More telling, writers who were originally published in print are actively seeking e-book contracts. I believe this is a recognition that e-publishing is a growth industry.

No, John, I've never been published by Ellora's Cave. However, if I didn't already have a publisher for my erotic romances, I would be happy to be published by EC. They are probably the best known of the e-publishers. Their authors make very good money.

I get irritated every time I hear someone sneer at e-publishing. I invariably get a vision of a farmer telling his wife that the Ford Model-T rattling past their property is "just a craze."


lainey bancroft said...

Thank you, Maya!

I also get irritated by the misconception the e-book publishing IS self publishing.

Granted, some of the kitchen start ups you referred to have marketed e-books that would have benefited from better editing. I believe this has stunted the credibility and growth of e-publishing, but the cream will eventually rise.

Do I have things I hope to land a print publishing contract for? Of course. But my e-publisher has offered a home to stories traditional print publishers would not have considered and I'm happy to be there.

And for the record, I've found many of the e-books I've read to be superior to what some print publishers are putting out there, both in content and quality of writing.

Maya Reynolds said...

Lainey: Erotic romance started online with e-publishers because New York was too afraid to take a chance on it. However, when it took off online, New York came running.

E-publishers are rapidly assuming the role that the independents once dominated: they are the place where the most interesting and innovative material can be found.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Maya:
I agree. I would never denigrate e-pubbed authors. I know some (hello Lainey)--many of whom I admire very much. BUT . . . I would also say there are definitely quality-control issues. You get what you pay for, often, in terms of editors, in terms of the types of people who head imprints, in my opinion. I've spent years and years as a developmental editor/ghost writer/copy editor before I was a f/t novelist. Editors who have their own imprints and lines also . . . they've been around, have honed their eye for quality. There is no way an e-publisher is going to spend upwards of a few grand to copy edit, proof, and otherwise develop a manuscript. And THAT shows. Maybe not at EC, but certainly some of these others. I am aghast at some of the books that get released. If e-pubs want respect, the business model has got to catch up a bit, I think, and pull in some true editorial talent to raise the caliber of some of their wares.