I was working on my manuscript when I took a break to do my daily tour of the Internet.
Imagine my surprise to stumble unto a full-fledged argument titled "Where the Hell is EPIC?" over on Dear Author here.
Jane, one of Dear Authors' stalwart founders, was complaining about EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection (see the website here), the support organization for e-published writers. She says:
In the past year, when we have seen more than one epublisher show their ass online and more and more authors being taken advantage of, I have found myself asking where the hell is EPIC? If EPIC, an association dedicated to epublishing can’t make a stand regarding the epublishing industy, what use is it other than to pat itself on the back and give questionably meaningful industry awards.
About a year ago, I applied for EPIC membership, wanting to learn more about the e-publishing industry. I'll admit I was taken aback to find they only admit persons who have already e-published (which I have not as yet).
The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of America (see here) have the same rule. I can kind of understand why. Otherwise, they'd probably be swamped by millions of 13-year-olds with sci-fi manuscripts in tow.
What the SFWA HAS done is provide a lot of resources--including the famous Writer Beware site here--to help unpublished writers. EPIC does provide a lot of links, but the most useful thing I've found at their site is the sample electronic contract here.
I posted a comment at Dear Author, which I'm going to include here because it sums up my thoughts about the problems with e-publishing.
Putting aside EPIC and RWA for a minute, I suspect a lot of the problems within e-publishing result from two issues: (1) the grass-roots origins of the industry. Even the largest and best-respected e-pubs were mostly started by writers seeking an outlet for their own work; and (2) the desire of most writers to see their books in hard copy. This puts financial pressure on e-publishers who want to keep the authors who are selling books on their site and who are clamoring to have their books published in print as well. The e-publisher may not have the business skills to balance the risk of a print venture against their desire to grow.
The major differences between New York and the present e-publishing industry are intent and practices.
By intent, I mean New York is clear about the goal: to make money. Conflicts of interest such as the publisher’s desire to see his/her own work released simply do not pop up very often when you are part of a corporation reporting to shareholders every quarter.
By practices, I mean fiscal expertise and competency. Many e-pubs begin in someone’s kitchen where, with a laptop and a website, a person with some computer skills can go into business in days. Because you can do it, doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it.
I know people who have simply taken on multiple pseudonyms, put their own work out there and then sent emails to lots of user groups talking about the wonderful new e-publisher in town. Impatient and inexperienced writers flock to these new sites and learn the hard way about things like poor contracts and reversion of rights.
What an organization–be it EPIC or RWA–could do for writers is establish a list of criteria that would help the writer sort through the wheat and chaff to figure out if this or that e-publisher is in the publishing business for real or simply trying to maintain a credible face while promoting their own work.
I’m convinced RWA (I can’t speak for EPIC; I’m not a member) has the best interests of writers at heart. However, IMHO, they need to make a REAL effort to have e-published writers or people knowledgeable about e-publishing on their board to lend some expertise so they don’t keep making missteps when it comes to poorly crafted rules.
There are a number of e-publishers who I'm told have made the leap to become "professional" operations. However, I'm going to make a prediction. If the kind of scandals we are seeing continue, e-publishing is going to be ripe for a takeover by New York before the industry makes it to adolescence. Writers fearful of the instability and poor reputation of e-publishers will decide to forego the ~35% e-pub royalties presently offered to go with the 15% e-pub royalties offered by New York.
I truly believe e-publishing is the future of the publishing industry. The fact that the biggest New York publishers are busy building their digital warehouses and retail sites is an indication they concur.
It would be a real shame to see the e-publishing industry become completely swallowed up by New York. And not just because of the money. E-publishing provides a lot of the most innovative and experimental writing out there right now. Because there isn't a lot of overhead involved in e-publishing, the industry can take risks that corporate New York can't afford. Like independent booksellers and small indie presses, independent e-publishers bring interesting and unusual offerings to the reading public.
An independent e-publishing industry would also offer an alternative to the "take-it-or-leave-it" contracting approach by New York.
RWA and EPIC could help writers everywhere by establishing a list of questions writers need to ask e-publishers before signing a contract--questions that are actually geared to the e-publishing industry (instead of being based on print-publishing criteria).
I'll list some of the questions that I'd be asking an e-publisher in tomorrow's post. I'd welcome others volunteering their own hard-learned lesssons either in the comment stream below this post or in an email to me at: email@example.com